The Role of Economics in Understanding Religion


This conference looked at the role and practice of religion in today’s world through the lens of economic theory. Our areas of exploration included the incentive effects of establishment, the impact of a competitive marketplace for religious ideas, and the contrasting economic and religious explanations of what appears to be a fundamentally noneconomic decision: to become a martyr. We also examined why extremist sects prosper in some religious economies.


From Liberty Fund

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (vol. 1)

by By Adam Smith
Edited by R. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner
William B. Todd, Textual Editor

First published in 1776, the year in which the American Revolution officially began, Smith’s Wealth of Nations sparked a revolution of its own. In it Smith analyzes the major elements of political economy, from market pricing and the division of labor to monetary, tax, trade, and other government policies that…

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Additional Readings

Derek Neal. "Comments on the Economics of Religion." Faith & Economics 46 (2005): 10-13.

Finke, Roger and Rodney Stark. The Churching of America, 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2005.

Hume, David. Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary. Edited by Eugene F. Miller. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1985.

Laurence Iannaccone. "Economics of Religion: Debating the Costs and Benefits of a New Field." Faith & Economics 46 (2005): 1-9.

Laurence Iannaccone and Eli Berman. "Religious Extremism: the Good, the Bad, and the Deadly." Public Choice 128 (2006): 109-129.

Laurence R. Iannaccone. "Introduction of the Economics of Religion." Journal of Economic Literture 36 (1998): 1465-1496.

Laurence R. Iannaccone, Roger Finke, and Rodney Stark. "Deregulating Religion: The Economics of Church and State." Economic Inquiry 35 (1995): 350-364.

Peter Boettke. "Religion and Economics." Faith & Economics 46 (2005): 14-18.

Richardson, Cyril C. The Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, as Told in the Letter of the Church of Smyrna to the Church of Philomelium. Edited by Early Christian Fathers. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1953. (accessed January 5, 2010).

Schaff, Philip. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001. (accessed January 5, 2010).

Stark, Rodney. The Rise of Christianity. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1997.