The Marketplace of Christianity

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Economics can help us understand the evolution and development of religion, from the market penetration of the Reformation to an exploration of today's hot-button issues including evolution and gay marriage.

This startlingly original (and sure to be controversial) account of the evolution of Christianity shows that the economics of religion has little to do with counting the money in the collection basket and much to do with understanding the background of today's religious and political divisions. Since religion is a set of organized beliefs, and a church is an organized body of worshippers, it's natural to use a science that seeks to explain the behavior of organizations—economics—to understand the development of organized religion. The Marketplace of Christianity applies the tools of economic theory to illuminate the emergence of Protestantism in the sixteenth century and to examine contemporary religion-influenced issues, including evolution and gay marriage.

The Protestant Reformation, the authors argue, can be seen as a successful penetration of a religious market dominated by a monopoly firm—the Catholic Church. The Ninety-five Theses nailed to the church door in Wittenberg by Martin Luther raised the level of competition within Christianity to a breaking point. The Counter-Reformation, the Catholic reaction, continued the competitive process, which came to include "product differentiation" in the form of doctrinal and organizational innovation. Economic theory shows us how Christianity evolved to satisfy the changing demands of consumers—worshippers.

The authors of The Marketplace of Christianity avoid value judgments about religion. They take preferences for religion as given and analyze its observable effects on society and the individual. They provide the reader with clear and nontechnical background information on economics and the economics of religion before focusing on the Reformation and its aftermath. Their analysis of contemporary hot-button issues—science vs. religion, liberal vs. conservative, clerical celibacy, women and gay clergy, gay marriage—offers a vivid illustration of the potential of economic analysis to contribute to our understanding of religion.

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About the author

Robert B. Ekelund, Jr. is Professor of Economics and Edward K. and Catherine L. Lowder Eminent Scholar Emeritus at Auburn University. He is the coauthor (with Robert D. Tollison) of Economics: Private Markets and Public Choice.

Robert F. Hébert is Russell Foundation Professor Emeritus at Auburn University.

Robert Tollison was J. Wilson Newman Professor and BB&T Senior Fellow in the John E. Walker Department of Economics at Clemson University.

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Additional Information

Publisher
MIT Press
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Published on
Sep 26, 2008
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Pages
368
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ISBN
9780262262620
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Economic History
Religion / Christianity / General
Religion / Christianity / History
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Laced with antic stories of Thaler’s spirited battles with the bastions of traditional economic thinking, Misbehaving is a singular look into profound human foibles. When economics meets psychology, the implications for individuals, managers, and policy makers are both profound and entertaining.

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First published by the University of Chicago Press on September 18, 1944, The Road to Serfdom garnered immediate, widespread attention. The first printing of 2,000 copies was exhausted instantly, and within six months more than 30,000 books were sold. In April 1945, Reader’s Digest published a condensed version of the book, and soon thereafter the Book-of-the-Month Club distributed this edition to more than 600,000 readers. A perennial best seller, the book has sold 400,000 copies in the United States alone and has been translated into more than twenty languages, along the way becoming one of the most important and influential books of the century.

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Without meaning to be irreverent, it is fair to say that in the Middle Ages, at the height of its political and economic power, the Roman Catholic Church functioned in part as a powerful and sophisticated corporation. The Church dealt in a "product" many consumers felt they had to have: the salvation of their immortal souls. The Pope served as its CEO, the College of Cardinals as its board of directors, bishoprics and monasteries as its franchises. And while the Church certainly had moral and social goals, this early antecedent to AT&T and General Motors had economic motives and methods as well, seeking to maximize profits by eliminating competitors and extending its markets. In Sacred Trust: The Medieval Church as an Economic Firm, five highly respected economists advance the controversial argument that the story of the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages is in large part a story of supply and demand. Without denying the centrality--or sincerity--of religious motives, the authors employ the tools of modern economics to analyze how the Church's objectives went well beyond the realm of the spiritual. They explore the myriad sources of the Church's wealth, including tithes and land rents, donations and bequests, judicial services and monastic agricultural production. And they present an in-depth look at the ways in which Church principles on marriage, usury, and crusade were revised as necessary to meet--and in many ways to create--the needs of a vast body of consumers. Along the way, the book raises and answers many intriguing questions. The authors explore the reasons behind the great crusades against the Moslems, probing beyond motives of pure idealism to highlight the Church's concern with revenues from tourism and the sale of relics threatened by Moslem encroachment in the holy lands. They examine the Church's involvement in the marriage market, revealing how the clergy filled their coffers by extracting fees for blessing or dissolving marital unions, for hearing marital disputes, and even for granting permission for blood relatives to wed. And they shed light on the concept of purgatory, showing how this "product innovation" developed by the Church in the twelfth century--a form of "deferred payment"--opened the floodgates for a fresh market in post-mortem atonement through payments on behalf of the deceased. Finally, the authors show how the cumulative costs that the faithful were asked to bear eventually priced the Roman Catholic church out of the market, paving the way for Protestant reformers like Martin Luther. A ground-breaking look at the growth and decline of the medieval Church, Sacred Trust demonstrates how economic reasoning can be used to cast light on the behavior of any complex historical institution. It offers rare insight into one of the great historical powers of Western civilization, in a analysis that will intrigue anyone interested in life in the Middle Ages, in church history, or in the influence of economic motives on historical events.
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The rapidly changing and evolving art market might appear to be chaotic to the casual observer, with new highs, potential lows, and tastes and fashions changing season to season. Economists, however, view the actions of buyers and sellers as constituting an identifiable market. They have, for some decades, studied such issues as artistic productivity and "death effects" on prices, investment returns, and on the basis of the behavior and estimated prices in auction markets. The Economics of American Art analyzes the most pervasive economic issues facing the art world, applied to the whole spectrum of American art. The book begins by looking at how a market for American art developed, how the politics of the post-war era shaped, at least in large part, the direction of American art, and how this legacy continues into contemporary art today. The book then tackles several salient, integral questions animating the American art world: Are age and "type" of artist (i.e. traditional or "innovative") related and, if so, how might they be related to productivity? Is investment in American art a remunerative endeavor compared to other investment possibilities? Do economic insights provide understanding of fakes, fraud and theft of art, particularly American art, and is it possible to prevent art crime? Is there is a boom (or a bust) in the market for contemporary American art as might be found in other markets? The ongoing evolution of American art is attended by a massive number of influences, and the economic concepts employed in this volume will complement other critical and important cultural studies of art. Both practical and accessible, The Economics of American Art will be essential for collectors, auction houses, American art experts of all kinds, museums, gallery owners and, not least, by economists with continuing scholarly interests in these matters.
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