This is the second event undertaken by The Heritage
Foundation's Center for Religion and Civil Society. The Center's
functions are two. One is to discuss the appropriate role of
religion in political and public life and to help policymakers work
through the many associated issues. Second, the Center is intended
to educate policymakers and the general public on the relationship
between religious practice and other aspects of economic and social
life. Just a few weeks ago we held our first event, which focused
on the relationship between prayer and health. It looked at the
research connecting religious practice and outcomes in the health
sector. This research was also the subject of a cover story in
Newsweek that featured a number of people who appeared on our
panel. Today we are going to look at the connection between
religious practice and economic growth. Dr. Robert Barro and his
associate and wife, Dr. Rachel McCleary, are here to discuss this
subject on the basis of a very important paper that they
Barro is Paul M. Warburg Professor of Economics at Harvard
University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at
Stanford University. A regular columnist for Business Week and
contributor to The Wall Street Journal, he has written extensively
on macroeconomics. His recent books include The Determinants of
Economic Growth and Nothing Is Sacred: Economic Ideas for the New
Millennium. His co-author, Dr. Rachel McCleary, is Director of the
project on Religion, Political Economy and Society at Harvard
University and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.
We're also delighted to have with us today
Dr. Josh Mitchell, who is an associate professor at Georgetown
University and chairman of the Government Department. His research
interests lie in the relationship between political thought and
theology in the West, and he will make a few comments after Dr.
Stuart M. Butler, Ph.D., is vice
president for domestic and economic policy studies at The Heritage
I would like to say a few words today about a research
project we've been carrying out on the interplay between religion
and an array of economic, political, and social factors. I will
summarize key parts of that research and discuss some of the
empirical findings that we have accumulated to date.
Regarding the conceptual or theoretical
approaches to the connection between religion and political
economy, there are two causal directions that analysts tend to
think about. This work has appeared especially in the literature on
the sociology of religion.
important line of research posits that religion (or measures of
religiosity) are dependent upon developments in the economic and
political aspects of contemporary life. This research suggests that
events in an economy--levels and standard of living or governmental
market interference--influence such things as church attendance or
second theoretical approach looks at the connection between
religion and economic and social life from the other direction.
Religion is thought of as being the independent variable,
influencing something about outcome on the economic, political, and
social side. For example, Max Weber's famous theory about
capitalism is in that line: Religiosity influences economic
performance, and perhaps political institutions.
Going back to the first type of model, in
which religion is seen as being dependent on social and economic
factors, there are two important sociological theories about how
religion responds to these factors. One approach is called the
"Secularization Hypothesis." It's a part of what is often called
"Modernization Theory," which looks at how the economies of
developing countries develop institutional capabilities to
alleviate poverty and rationalize markets.
Modernization theory posits that as an economy develops and gets
richer, certain societal institutions and features change in a
regular way. The Secularization hypothesis applies this theory to
religiosity: As economies develop and get richer, people supposedly
become less religious. "Less religious" is measured either by
participation in organized religion (e.g., church attendance) or by
certain indicators of religious belief.
Secularization theory (or "Secularization Hypothesis") is widely
held among analysts. The United States is frequently mentioned as
an exception to this idea: The United States is very rich and it is
also highly religious. Therefore, the U.S. is not thought to fit
the Secularization view.
Religion Market Model
second important approach in the sociology of religion literature
is often called the "Religion Market Model." It speaks about the
way government interacts with religion and influences the extent of
participation in religion--or even the extent of religious beliefs.
Thus, sometimes the government regulates the market, possibly
promoting a monopoly religion or making it difficult for other
religions to flourish.
Under this theory, the government might
make it difficult for people to practice their religion by going to
services. On the other hand, it might subsidize religious activity.
Yet, in one way or another, the government will be influencing the
amount of formal religious activity. One example of this influence
is the establishment of an official religion in a country.
There are, however, different views in the
literature about whether such governmental action will promote
religiosity or detract from it. The argument that it might detract
from religiosity is as follows: If you have an established
religion, you tend to have a monopoly, and monopolies tend to
function inefficiently. For example, it is thought that a monopoly
church--such as the Catholic Church in predominantly Catholic
countries or the Anglican Church in England--doesn't perform
efficiently and is not attractive to practitioners. In response,
people are thought to participate less. This argument even appears
in Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, so it's quite an old idea.
the other hand, established religion tends to go along with
government funding of religious activities. The government might be
paying for church buildings or church personnel. In this case, one
might predict that subsidizing something might result in greater
general, this Religion Market Model argues that the way state and
church interact is quite central. Extreme examples are communist
regimes, including the Soviet Union and China. But many Eastern
European countries also tried very hard to eradicate organized
religion and apparently had some degree of success. That's another
way in which the government might influence religious activity.
A Combination of Approaches
empirical analysis of the determinants of religion combines these
two kinds of approaches. It combines the Secularization view's
emphasis on the demand for religion--and how religion is influenced
by economic development--with the Religion Market Model's focus on
the supply of religion--particularly as it is influenced by
government policies in this area. Our results combine these two
theories rather than trying to determine which is the most
Regarding how religion influences economic
performance, I would stress religion's influence on economic
growth--as in Max Weber's work on the "Protestant Ethic." This view
underlies an important part of the empirical work we're doing. This
theory posits that religion affects the economy by influencing
certain individual traits. These traits, in turn, may make people
more or less economically productive.
Weber particularly stressed the Protestant
work ethic. In general, if religiosity influences the willingness
to work and to be productive, that might be an important
There might also be influences working
through honesty, ethics, and other kinds of values. Additional
effects are thought to operate through thrift, whether people are
open to strangers or not, and other factors. Those would be the
kinds of individual characteristics that might influence the
economy and in turn be influenced by religious beliefs and
There are other aspects of religion that
might be negative for economic performance. For example, organized
religion may prohibit certain kinds of economic transactions or be
able to persuade the government to prohibit them--for example,
credit markets, insurance markets, or regulations related to the
incorporation of businesses.
of our study is empirical. Thus, I want to say a little bit about
the kind of information that we're using to carry out our
First, we're trying to quantify some of
these ideas. There are two main kinds of individual-level
dimensions with respect to religiosity. One is about participation
in formal religion--which might have to do with things like
attendance at formal religious services or at personal prayer--and
the other is about religious beliefs of certain kinds. When
thinking about how religion might influence economic outcomes, we
think about these outcomes as working through certain beliefs that
influence traits like work ethic, honesty, and other
Sampling and Sources
order to get a broad cross-country sample of the extent of
religiosity, the things we are measuring come from six important
international surveys of values and other activities. These were
carried out from the early 1980s through 1999. Three of these
surveys are waves of the so-called World Value Survey: 1981, 1990,
World Value Survey now covers around 50 countries and surveys 1,000
to 2,000 individuals in each country to get an idea of their values
in various respects. We use data about attendance at formal
religious services in addition to a number of specific religious
data we are looking at concern beliefs--related, for example, to an
afterlife or whether people believe in heaven/hell. There are some
more general questions, such as belief in God, and there are also
questions that are more robust across religions: for example,
whether or not you consider yourself to be a religious person.
There exist these three waves from the
World Value Survey, and there are two waves from the International
Social Survey program in the 1990s. Those data are mostly for
richer countries, and only include a few less-developed
There is something of a trade-off between
these two sources because the World Value Survey tries to be more
internationally inclusive. As a consequence of the goal of
inclusiveness, the quality of the data is probably not as good: It
is more difficult to do the surveys in a scientific manner in some
of these poorer countries. We also have information from
Gallup--from their so-called Millennium Survey that refers mostly
might also note there's a current wave of the World Survey that
will soon be available which applies mostly to 2001. For this
survey, there are affiliates in various countries who actually do
the surveys and collect the data. To provide incentives for people
to participate in that project, they get a three-year head start in
using all the data, and only after a three-year lag do they release
the data for public use. That release will occur in the spring of
Thus, a few months from now, the data for
the 2001 wave will be available. That is particularly interesting
because the new wave contains many more countries than before. It
includes about 70 countries, and it has more representation than
previous surveys in Muslim countries and some countries that
practice Eastern religions, such as Buddhism.
also use information on religious adherence across countries. That
information lets us know about people who profess to be Catholic,
Protestant, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and so on. The Barrett World
Christian Encyclopedia, which has two editions, is the source of
these data. Even though it has the word "Christian" in the title,
it covers all world religions.
mentioned before that part of the theoretical framework for this
project is from the Religion Market Model, which focuses on the
nature of the state's regulation of religion and how that affects
the religion that people can practice. We have a number of
variables that we have constructed to try to quantify that
influence. I will mention them briefly.
- I have a measure about whether or not a
country has an official state religion (an established religion)
that typically applies around 1970. There are some controversial
cases, but I have countries classified as either having an
established religion around 1970 or not. For example, most Muslim
countries, except for Turkey, are classified as having an
established religion. Some Catholic countries have established
religions and some do not. The Scandinavian countries all have the
Lutheran religion as the established religion around 1970. Thailand
is an example of the Buddhist established state religion. Of
course, many countries do not have an established religion.
- We also have a measure of the way that
government regulates the market for religion, particularly in terms
of entry. This measure focuses on whether or not the government has
to approve leaders of the church in the country or actually makes
- Another influence is about Communist
countries: Communism has an important negative effect on
religiosity. We have a lot of examples of Communist countries in
the sample, especially Eastern Europe. It is also interesting to
look at important regime changes in the 1990s. Almost all of those
countries moved away from Communism. What was the nature of the
recovery of religiosity, or did it recover? That is part of what
we'll be examining.
The Nature of the Data
me tell you something about the data that we're using. These are
some of the variables I just discussed. (See Table 1.) This first
variable is this indicator for whether or not a country had an
established state religion around 1970. Most of the cases are
straightforward. A few are not and are subject to a lot of
example, some people think that Italy and Spain don't have an
established religion around 1970. There was clearly a lot of
liberalization away from the previous regime by then. We're
classifying those countries as having an established Catholic
religion in 1970.
other variable is about whether or not the government is regulating
the market for religion in the way I described before. And the
final column is another variable that's important in this religion
market approach: It is the extent of diversity in a country with
respect to the religious denominations among the adherents to some
example, if you take any of the Scandinavian countries, a
substantial proportion of the people say they have no religion.
However, if you look at people who say they have some religion, it
turns out that most of the people in those countries are Lutheran.
There is very little religious pluralism there because most of the
people who adhere to some religion are of the same type. In Turkey,
for example, almost everybody is Muslim, and that's true of most of
the Muslim countries, except for Malaysia: A very large fraction of
the population who adhere to a religion is Muslim.
There are many Catholic countries that are
very heavily Catholic, like Ireland, Spain, and many South American
countries. Countries like that have a pluralism indicator in our
table that's close to zero. Italy, for example, is almost a zero,
which means that everybody there who professes some religion claims
to be Catholic.
contrast, there are other countries where there is a great deal of
diversity among the religions in the population. The United States
is often mentioned as an example of that. The U.S. contains many
religions: Catholic, Protestant, and an array of others.
Germany is an interesting case because it
is about 50/50 Protestant and Catholic. That ends up being a fair
degree of pluralism in the way that we mentioned. But you might
think it is different to have two religions that everybody claims,
rather than a greater number, so there are different ways we might
measure this. We think that pluralism makes the religion market
more efficient and, therefore, ultimately makes people more
That's just a little sketch of the data.
Let me tell you some of the results that we find. We're looking
across a large set of countries, at various different points in
time, but it's in the 1980s and 1990s that we have the data on
measures of religiosity. We particularly examined what might
determine things like church attendance or attendance at an
analogous formal service, as well as various religious beliefs.
thing we find is that if you look at economic development as a
single kind of indicator--like per capita gross domestic product or
real income per person--you definitely find a strong pattern
whereby more economic development and higher per capita income are
associated with lower religiosity. That's true whether you're
talking about church attendance or various individual religious
beliefs that we examined. To that extent, I think that there is
some validity in the secularization view. The overall evidence that
we have from the "World Group of Countries" is that richer places
are less religious.
also make an argument in our current paper that causation runs from
economic development to religiosity. That is, getting richer means
you practice less religion, rather than the reverse. You might
think there is also a reverse effect, from religiosity to economic
development. But we think that the effect that we've isolated here
is really from higher per capita income to lower religiosity; that
we have some evidence about the causal arrow in this particular
case being that way.
that extent, we have results that look like the secularization
view, but the effect is not all that important. Quantitatively, it
doesn't really explain very much of the differences in religiosity
across the world. The U.S. is definitely an outlier in that
relationship. The U.S. looks more religious than you would expect,
as measured either by beliefs or by church attendance.
me tell you about some other results that we have here. We look at
the consequences of having an established state religion. On net,
we find that that is actually positive, both for church attendance
and for religious beliefs. To some extent, that goes against what
Adam Smith said. Smith stressed that established religion would
promote monopoly, poor service, and decreased service attendance.
He particularly inferred that from looking at the Anglican Church
find, however, that the net relationship is actually positive, and
we think that is basically because state religion tends to be
accompanied by the state subsidizing religious activity in various
ways. I think an economist, particularly Adam Smith, would
generally accept the idea that something that is subsidized will
tend to occur more often than something that isn't. It's the same
as saying that something that is taxed will tend to occur less
However, consistent with Smith, we find
that government regulation has an important negative effect on
religious participation and beliefs. That's more in line with the
consistent with this approach and the religion market model is that
more of a pluralist structure--a greater diversity of religions
represented in the country-- is associated with more religiosity,
more participation, and firmer beliefs. That also goes along with
the idea that competition and greater choice will produce a better
outcome, or a more vigorous one at least.
The Effects of Communism
find that the communist regimes had an important negative influence
on religiosity. Of course, this pattern applies in the context of
how people answer questions on surveys, and I'm assuming that the
responses are accurate.
that sense, the communist governments were successful in promoting
communism as an alternative religion and suppressing the normal
kind of religion. Related to that effect, there seems to have been
a recovery in most countries of religiosity in the 1990s after the
communist governments were abandoned--roughly speaking about half
the way back from where they might have been otherwise after 10
might mention Poland as a big outlier in that relationship. Poland
is the one communist country that was extremely religious during
the communist period, before 1990 in particular. Poland and Ireland
are the most religious countries in Europe by far. After the
communist regime was dropped in Poland, religiosity actually
declined. This was unlike the usual pattern, in which religion
tended to recover after the communist governments were
me tell you something about those results before I move on. This is
an example of what you can explain or not explain with this
empirical approach that I've been sketching here.
Using data from 1990, from the World Value
Survey, I've looked at two measures. One is a measure of formal
participation--that is, the monthly rate of church
attendance--which is the fraction of the total population of a
country that says that they attend formal religious services at
least on a monthly basis.
second measure is an example of a kind of religious belief that we
can measure from the cross-country surveys. This one is about
belief in heaven. The number here is the fraction in the population
that say yes to the query as to whether or not you believe in
Using numbers for the countries that have
the data, the model shows the estimated participation or belief,
given things like the level of economic development and whether you
have a state religion, the variables that I just went through.
point is that the United States really is an outlier in this
relation, sometimes referred to as "A Great Exception." For
example, the fraction of the population that says they attend
church at least monthly is 58 percent, which is quite high,
particularly for a rich country. The model says it should be 36
percent, so that's the extent to which the model does not explain
the United States very well. In the broader world data, higher
income goes along with lower religiosity. It's just that the United
States is not so well-explained by this analysis.
same is true with respect to belief. The United States has an
extraordinarily high belief rate in this particular concept,
"Heaven," but also in other ones: 87 percent say they believe in
heaven, which is actually quite remarkable if you compare with
other places. The model says it should have been 57 percent, so
that's another gauge of the extent to which the U.S. is an
Actually, Poland is the biggest outlier:
85 percent of the population attending church at least monthly in
1990, and the model doesn't explain that at all. People think the
Catholic Church played a special role in Poland, and that's why
people went to church, but that's a very special kind of
have tried to put a finer breakdown into what we mean by economic
development. Instead of looking at per capita income, you can look
at variables that typically move in a regular way in the process of
development. For example, as countries get richer, they tend to
have more education; the population is more urban; health is better
(including higher life expectancy); and fertility rates tend to go
down. Hence, the fraction of the population that is represented by
children tends to be lower, and because people are healthier, a
greater fraction of the population is old.
mention those variables because many theories about what determines
religiosity focus on those variables: things like education,
urbanization, life expectancy, age, etc., and whether or not you
have children present. If you look at the U.S. with these finer
details about economic development, the fit for the United States
of the problems with this analysis is that, if you go to this finer
detail of economic development, it becomes less clear whether
development is affecting religiosity--which I'm convinced is true
in terms of economic development overall--or religiosity is
affecting the various dimensions of development. Fertility and
health, for example, or education are things that often are thought
to be influenced by religiosity. So the model fits better if you
have this finer breakdown, but it also causes other problems in
terms of making firm conclusions about causation.
Religiosity and Economic Performance
me now turn to the other kind of analysis, which is "How does
religiosity affect the performance of the economy or other aspects
such as the political structure and democracy?" We've looked at
measures of economic growth across countries based on the change in
the per capita gross domestic product. This is part of an earlier
research project that I've been working on for 10 or 12 years, and
I think I know a lot of things that may influence economic growth
and why some countries grow faster than others.
tried here to extend that analysis, to examine whether there is a
separate influence starting from where I was before, from culture
or specifically from religiosity, as an influence on growth. I'm
holding fixed a lot of other things that I think I've been working
on, things that influence economic growth, and I'm trying to see
whether there is a separate influence related specifically to
religion in terms of effecting economic performance. That's what
I've tried to investigate.
way, it's testing the thesis that Max Weber put forward about a
hundred years ago. We entered religiosity as a potential influence
on growth in two dimensions. One is about participation in formal
religion, measured by rates of church attendance, and a second one
is about religious beliefs. It might be belief in an afterlife or
in hell or heaven or something like that.
Conceptually, the way we're thinking about
this is that if religion matters for economic performance, it's
going to work by affecting beliefs that affect certain character
traits that I referred to before: work ethic, honesty, etc. I'm
thinking about religious beliefs as being the important output from
the religion sector with respect to a potential influence on
economic performance. It might be, for example, that formal
religion or other things influence beliefs, and those might work in
a positive direction to encourage productivity and growth.
hold fixed beliefs--and, therefore, character traits such as work
ethic and honesty--then more church attendance signifies more
resources being used. That probably means that there should be a
negative connection with growth. That is, if I'm already holding
fixed the thing that is being produced by the religion
sector--beliefs--then if I have more input, more time, and more
resources, I expect that to be negative on growth.
is not the only way you could imagine this whole process. You might
think that the formal religion sector produces other things, like
social capital, networks, or some kinds of social organizations.
You might think those are particularly important for economic
activity--that is, a channel that does not work through the
beliefs. You might think that the religion sector is important for
other reasons, for example, influences on education. But my
conjecture is that the main effect--and the thing that's special
about religion--is the way it affects beliefs, values and certain
character traits. That is why I'm focusing on that and that is
going to affect my interpretation of these findings.
me tell you the kinds of results we get. Conceptually, I'm looking
at the determinants of economic growth, across countries and over
time, measured by growth of per capita gross domestic product.
There are a number of things that I think influence growth, based
on a lot of previous research by others and myself. I'm holding
those constant, and I'm looking at the separate contribution to
growth from religiosity measured by the two kinds of variables I
discussed before: one is about formal participation--here it's
measured by monthly church attendance--and the other one is some
kind of religious belief, which I think matters for character
traits. In this particular case, a belief in hell turns out to have
the most impact in terms of economic performance. I don't know
whether to be happy or sad about that.
kinds of results that we get are summarized by Figures 1 and 2.
Think of this positive relationship as the impact on economic
growth, if belief were to go up while holding fixed the amount of
formal participation in religion--as measured by church attendance.
If you look across countries, some countries are very religious and
some are not very religious, measured either by church attendance
or beliefs. Therefore, the biggest variation in the data has the
two measures of religiosity moving together.
is not what the figure represents. It represents the effect of
firmer beliefs--in this case belief in hell--for a given level of
participation. For example, there is a recent book by Grace Davie
discussing religion in Britain. She argues that this is a case of
people who have high levels of belief in various things but don't
attend church. Therefore, formal participation, in terms of church
attendance or other metrics, is low, but beliefs are relatively
is the kind of thing we are picking up: a situation in which belief
is high for a given level of formal participation, measured by
church attendance. That is where we find this positive relationship
contributing to economic growth.
Figures 3 and 4 apply "for a given level
of belief," which I think of as the principal output of the
religion sector: it shows the effect on when you have more
participation--meaning more church attendance--which we find to be
negative. My interpretation of this negative effect is not that
church attendance is negative overall for economic performance.
Rather, if the church attendance is doing something--if the formal
sector is doing something--then the greater church attendance and
participation should produce firmer beliefs. Therefore, you would
not actually be holding this other thing constant. This is supposed
to be the effect of resources being used, given what the religion
sector is producing in terms of beliefs.
the religion sector had also been important in terms of social
organizations and social capital, you might have expected that more
participation would have a positive effect, even given beliefs. But
we don't find that. We find that it has this negative kind of
could also ask: What is the overall consequence for economic growth
of a country being more or less religious? I mentioned that the
typical pattern is those countries that are high on attendance are
also high on beliefs, and vice versa. If you look at countries just
being more religious overall or less, the relation with economic
growth is weak. There's not much relationship overall between
whether countries are just more religious or less religious and
whether they grow fast or slow.
respect to beliefs, however, there's a little bit of evidence that
the impact of hell (which you can think about as kind of a negative
incentive to avoid bad things instead of a positive incentive to do
good things) is more potent for economic performance than some
other beliefs. I wouldn't push that very far. I don't think you can
really discriminate that well between such a belief and other
factors. We do find in general that beliefs in an afterlife, heaven
and hell, all work in a similar way; and they all look similarly
positive. Whereas, if you look at a more general question such as
"Belief in God" or whether people regard themselves as religious,
that actually has no relationship to economic performance.
people feel like they have to answer yes to the question, "Do you
believe in God?" So the average belief in God across the whole
sample is close to 90 percent. However, it doesn't seem to mean
anything in terms of behavior and economic results, whereas some of
these other beliefs are much less frequent and seem to have much
more significance in terms of the relationship between actual
behavior and economic results. It's not the case that all religious
beliefs work in the same way in our cross-country findings.
also make an argument in our paper about why the direction of
effect flows from religion to economic growth rather than the
reverse. I mentioned before that there is a two-way causation. We
think that these effects represent the effects of either church
attendance or belief on growth rather than the reverse, and we make
some arguments in our research about why we come to that
conclusion--about why this is not just a correlation and why we
think there is actually some causation from religiosity to economic
me mention in conclusion some additional kinds of research work
that we're currently looking at. In addition to looking at the
effect of religion on economic performance, we are trying to look
at the effect of religion on various social and political
indicators. For example, we are examining whether religion has some
influence on the preservation or occurrence of democracy and civil
liberties. We are also looking at whether religion has an important
country-wide effect on variables like fertility, health, education,
are also looking at the question about why some countries have
state religions and some do not. Many state religions date back
hundreds of years. As an example, Sweden instituted the Lutheran
Church as a state religion in the 1500s, along with the
Reformation, and stuck with it for more than 400 years--even though
the country became very non-religious. Sweden eliminated the
Lutheran Church as the official religion only in the year 2000.
Many countries with state religions have them because something
happened 400 years ago--for example, Henry the VIII decided he
didn't want the Catholic Church anymore. Yet there are a lot of
examples of countries dropping state religions. For example, if you
look at the years between 1900 and 2000, many countries that once
had state religions have abandoned them.
after the long period of communist governments, the state religions
of the past often re-emerged. That is particularly true in some of
the Asian republics that were formerly in the Soviet Union.
are looking at people who are non-religious and at people
classified in the data as those with no religious affiliation and
those people who say they are atheists. I guess that to be an
atheist is to take an active position: Being anti-religion and
being non-religion is perhaps something different, but we're trying
to investigate that, along with this other kind of analysis. We are
also doing some work to determine religious conversion within a
country. Some countries have a fair amount of conversion--such as
the United States. Some countries have very little, and we're
thinking about the determinants of conversion.
It seems to me that the question before us--the larger
question-- is: Why religion, now? The storybook tale of
relationship between politics and religion, especially between the
period of 1989 to 2001, could have been summed up by Francis
Fukuyama in The End of History: The idea was that, somehow, all of
these deep longings and beliefs would go by the wayside. Yet this
storybook tale is something that pre-dates Fukuyama, obviously.
call this storybook tale the "Fable of Liberalism," and by that, I
mean a deep tale that we tell ourselves in the West. It goes all
the way back to Montesquieu and Voltaire and Constant and to
Tocqueville and Adam Smith and Immanuel Kant, and it can be summed
up in Voltaire's Letters on England, written roughly in 1750.
he's trying to do, among other things, is to move us away from
archaic religious beliefs toward a tamer, calmer, more rational
social order. He says, "I go to the English stock market. There I
see Jew, Christian and Moslem and nobody cares about each other's
beliefs as long as their money is good." Voltaire is saying that we
need to move in this direction, move away from religion entirely,
because it only gives us intractable oppositions, and that perhaps
economic and political liberalism are the way out.
also have, in more contemporary language and largely since World
War II, a whole generation of scholars who developed "Modernization
Theory." There, too, you have the view that religion is going away.
So I think this research by Professor Barro may beg the question:
Why religion now? Why are we so concerned about it?
There's a larger debate about the
relationship between religion and economics that was alluded to in
the presentation. First you have Max Weber's work in 1906 in a very
subtle book that everybody should read, The Protestant Ethic and
the Spirit of Capitalism. Weber's larger question was: Why
capitalism now? Why in the West does it occur?
Weber is concerned with the universalizing
force of instrumental rationality, and his question is a large one
for us today: Does something that emerges in the West, for peculiar
reasons, have to do with the West, or is it universal?
will note that, in the empirical analysis here, you have Protestant
as one category. Weber, however, was very clear to parse out all of
the different Protestant categories: Calvinists, Lutherans,
Ana-Baptists, and so forth. Anyone who has listened to A Prairie
Home Companion will know that Lutherans like those in Lake
Woebegone are not the kind of hard-driving economic actors that you
find in Calvinist New England.
larger theory that Weber has of capitalism and the advance of
instrumental rationality, of course, ties in with the
secularization theory. And then, in 1776 you've got Adam Smith's
Wealth of Nations, where one finds the claim that religions thrive
when they're subject to market forces. Here religion is understood
largely as a good, as a product. You can see the influence of Smith
on Professors Barro and McCleary.
However, the authors don't entirely rely
on Smithian competition. They move in the direction of another
very, very important insight, namely that there are what could be
called deep character traits, which help or hinder a person's
development in certain ways, both politically and economically.
insight turns us toward an author that was not mentioned by
Professor Barro: Alexis de Tocqueville, who is, I think, a hero of
a number of us. Tocqueville understood this idea very well, that
economic institutions and all the others--family, local government,
religion, even the legal system--are important for shaping
character of a certain sort.
Moreover, Professor Barro has a deeply
Tocquevillian conclusion that these two domains of life--mainly
politics and religion--should be kept separate if you're going to
have a thriving commerce and, Tocqueville would say, a thriving
democracy as well. Tocqueville's reasoning here is important, and
it's a question that I think looms large for us in the 21st
argument for the separation of these two domains, which Professor
Barro does not cite, but which Tocqueville does, is predicated on
that notion that religion is not a preference. Religion cannot be
understood in the modality of everyday life of choosing and having
preferences in the market model of human life.
Tocqueville understood that the reason why
religion obtains at all in human experience is because it speaks at
those moments when everyday life is suspended: moments of deep
suffering, of loss, of death. His argument is that religion is
eternal to the human heart, and therefore, insofar as we can keep
these two modalities of experience separate, we can have both
strong religion and strong economic growth as well. His critique of
the unification of these things is addressed to Europe, where he
thought that the political order had overlapped with the religious
order, to the detriment of both.
the two conclusions that we find in this paper--that religion forms
traits conducive to commerce; and that of the separation of
religion and politics is also necessary--are quite consistent with
the conclusions of that great thinker, Tocqueville.
question I would pose, then, is this: Is it possible, really, to
comprehend religion in terms of economic analysis? My intimation is
that there are a number of us in the audience who would raise some
variant of that question. To be sure, there are some things which
can be touched upon when you do this, but it's not clear to me
ultimately that we get to the thing itself by treating religion in
exercise of understanding social reality is a messy sort of thing,
Tocqueville would say, because democratic souls--this is my usage,
but Tocqueville would agree--want the kind of univocal measure of
things. And I think the great temptation in the democratic age is
that we want to have a single way of comprehending all sorts of
disparate phenomena. Tocqueville's argument is that religion is a
different phenomenon, that it can't be comprehended in terms of
preferences, and, therefore, we do injustice to it if we try to
proceed in that way.