The economics of religion

How does religion affect the economy? How do economic factors impact religious choices? Scholars in huge numbers are analyzing this intersection of faith and economics. They include people from a range of disciplines across the U.S. and around the world doing cutting-edge work.

Why it matters

People’s beliefs affect practical decisions in everyday life, including economic ones, and religious organizations can be powerful players in the secular realms of government and politics.

Questions for reporters

With pioneering scholars energetically at work, story possibilities and questions abound for journalists:

• How do people “buy” and “sell” what religious organizations have to offer?

• How do religions compete with one another for “customers”?

• How does membership in a strict or extreme religious group pay off – not just in the afterlife, but in the here and now? Do the “goods” include mutual insurance? Education? Law and order when the government is weak?

• How does religion, or its suppression, affect economic growth?

• Does faith generate individual behavior that boosts the economy?

• How do religious beliefs affect how people choose to spend their money?

• How do congregations’ religious ethics govern their financial decisions – in giving, spending, saving, investing, borrowing, allocating and other money matters?

• How do economic and financial crises affect people’s faith?


Read these articles about the study of economics of religion:

International sources

  • Esa Mangeloja

    Esa Mangeloja, a senior lecturer in the economics department at the University of Jyvaskyla, Finland, has researched the economics of religion.

  • Janet T. Landa

    Janet T. Landa, a retired economics professor at York University in Toronto, has written about the bioeconomics of religious and ethnically homogenous merchant groups.

National sources

  • Laurence R. Iannaccone

    Laurence R. Iannaccone, (pronounced “YAWN -uh – cone -ee”) director of the Institute for the Study of Religion, Economics and Society and professor of economics at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., is a leading authority internationally on the economics of religion. He heads the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics and Culture and developed the Consortium for the Economic Study of Religion.

  • Carrie Miles

    Carrie Miles is a senior scholar-in-residence at Chapman University in Orange, Calif. She is the author of The Redemption of Love: Rescuing  Marriage and Sexuality from the Economics of a Fallen World ( Brazos Press, 2006). The book uses economics and social science to understand biblical teachings on marriage and the family.

  • Robert H. Nelson

    Robert H. Nelson is Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, Professor of Environmental Policy in the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, and Senior Scholar at the Mercatus Center. He has expertise in economic ethics. His books include Economics as Religion: From Samuelson to Chicago and Beyond (Pennsylvania State Press, 2001) and The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion in Contemporary America (Pennsylvania State Press, 2010).

  • Ariela Keysar

    Ariela Keysar is Associate Director at the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture and Associate Research Professor at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. She is c0-author of Religion in a Free Market, Religious and Non-Religious Americans: Who, What, Why, and Where (Paramount Publishing, 2006) and Religion and Political Party Preference: New Findings from the American Religious Identification Survey (Paramount, 2004).

  • Barry Kosmin

    Barry Kosmin directs the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. He has conducted polls on religion and society in the United States, Europe, Africa and Asia.

  • Robert J. Barro

    Robert J. Barro, professor of economics at Harvard University, co-wrote with Rachel McCleary the papers “International Determinants of Religiosity” and “Religion and Economic Growth.” Read a March 7, 2004, Boston Globe article on Barro and McCleary’s research. Barro writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal. 

  • Rachel McCleary

    Rachel McCleary is Senior Research Fellow, Taubman Center, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Research Fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and Visiting Scholar, American Enterprise Institute. Rachel Holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago, a Master of Theological Studies from Emory University, and a B.A. from Indiana University. She co-wrote the papers “International Determinants of Religiosity” and “Religion and Economic Growth.” More recently, she has researched Protestantism and human capital in Guatemala.

  • Earl Grinols

    Earl Grinols, Distinguished Professor of Economics at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, wrote Gambling in America: Costs and Benefits (Cambridge University Press, 2004). Grinols’s research also includes the economics of national health care policy.

  • Ross B. Emmett

    Ross B. Emmett is Professor of Political Economy and Political Theory & Constitutional Democracy at James Madison College, Michigan State University. He has written “The Idea of a Secular Society Revisited” in Faith, Reason, and Economics: Essays in Honour of Anthony Waterman, edited by Derek Hum (St. John’s College Press, 2003; and “Frank Knight: Economics vs. Religion” in Economics and Religion, ed. H.G. Brennan and A.M.C. Waterman (Kluwer Academic Press, 1994).

Regional sources

In the Northeast

In the South

  • Robert D. Tollison

    Robert D. Tollison, professor of economics at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C., has expertise in the economics of religion. His books include, as co-author, Sacred Trust: The Medieval Church as an Economic Firm (Oxford University Press, 1996). He has co-written a draft manuscript, Economics and Christianity.

  • Barak D. Richman

    Barak D. Richman is a professor of law at Duke University in Durham, N.C. He has written the paper “How Community Institutions Create Economic Advantage: Jewish Diamond Merchants in New York.”

  • James Hudnut-Beumler

    James Hudnut-Beumler is a professor of American religious history at the divinity school at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. He co-edited the book The Future of Mainline Protestantism. He directed the Material History of American Religion Project, which focused on material objects and economic themes. He is an expert on the church, ethics, philanthropy and general money issues.

  • Robert B. Ekelund

    Economist Robert B. Ekelund is Lowder Eminent Scholar Emeritus at Auburn University in Auburn, Miss. His books include, as co-author, Sacred Trust: The Medieval Church as an Economic Firm (Oxford University Press, 1996). He has co-written a draft manuscript, Economics and Christianity. His paper “An Economic Analysis of the Protestant Reformation” was published in the 2002 Journal of Political Economy.

  • Mahmoud El-Gamal

    Mahmoud El-Gamal is a professor of economics and statistics at Rice University in Houston and holds the endowed chair in Islamic economics, finance and management. He has published about Islamic transaction law and finance.

  • Charles M. North

    Charles M. North, associate professor of economics at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, has written about the links between religion and economic growth. He co-wrote the 2008 book Good Intentions: Nine Hot Button Issues Viewed Through the Eyes of Faith.

  • Timur Kuran

    Timur Kuran is professor of economics and political science and Gorter Family Professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University in Durham, N.C. He has researched economic issues involving Islam, and his books include Islam and Mammon: The Economic Predicaments of Islamism (Princeton University Press, 2004).

In the Midwest

In the West

  • Eli Berman

    Eli Berman, a professor of economics at the University of California at San Diego, specializes in the economics of religion. He is also research director for International Security Studies at the UC Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation. He wrote an essay in the Quarterly Journal of Economics in 2000 titled “Sect, Subsidy and Sacrifice: An Economist’s View of Ultra-Orthodox Jews.”

  • Andrew Yuengert

    Andrew Yuengert, professor of economics at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., has conducted research in the empirical study of religion. He is a former president of the Association of Christian Economists. His books include The Boundaries of Technique: Ordering Positive and Normative Concerns in Economic Research (Lexington Books, 2004) and Inhabiting the Land: The Case for the Right to Migrate (Acton Institute for Religion and Liberty, 2003).

  • Anthony Gill

    Anthony Gill, professor of political science at the University of Washington in Seattle, researches church-state relations from a microeconomic perspective. He teaches a course on religion, politics and economics. His books include Rendering Unto Caesar: The Catholic Church and the State in Latin America. Gill conducts research on community efforts to restrict the property rights of religious groups. He wrote a paper on the subject for the Association of Religion Data Archives.

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