Religious Market Theory: Introduction

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  • Religious Market Theory
    • The main advocates for this theory are Stark and Bainbridge.
    • (Also known as rational choice theory)
    • They are critical of secularisation theory as "Eurocentric," (focused on the decline of Europe) which fails to explain the continuation of religion activity in America and elsewhere.
    • They are critical of secularisation theory because they believe that it has a distorted view of the past and future.
      • There was no "golden age," of religion in the past and is not realistic to predict a future end point for religion when everyone will be an atheist.
    • Based on two assumptions:
      • It is human nature to seek rewards and avoid costs. When people make choices, they weigh up the costs and benefits of the different options available.
      • 1. People are naturally religious and religion meets human needs.
    • Religion is attractive because it provides us with compensators.
      • When real rewards are unobtainable or scarce, religion compensates by promising supernatural ones.
        • For example: immortality is unobtainable unless religion promises an afterlife.
    • Puts forward the concept of a cycle of religious decline, revival and renewal as an alternative to secularisation process which sees a one-way process of continuous decline.
      • There is a perpetual cycle throughout history, with some religions declining and others growing and attracting new members.
        • Example: When established churches decline, they leave a gap in the market for sects and cults to attract new followers
          • This suggests that secularisation theory is one-sided: it sees the decline, but ignores the growth of new religions and religious revivals.
    • Churches operate like companies selling goods in a market.
      • Where secularisation theory sees competition between different religious organisations as undermining religion, religious market theorists take the opposing view.
        • They argue that competition leads to improvement in the quality of religious goods on offer.
          • The Churches that succeed in making their product more attractive with succeed in gaining more "customers," (followers/members).
          • Churches that do not respond to their member's spiritual needs will decline.

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