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What Are The Main Strengths And Weaknesses Of The Rational Choice Approach To Religious Behaviour?

1742 words - 7 pages

'WHAT ARE THE MAIN STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES OF THE RATIONAL CHOICE APPROACH TO RELIGIOUS BEHAVIOUR?'BIBLIOGRAPHY1) G. Becker, 1986, 'The economic approach to human behaviour', pp. 108-22 in J. Elster (ed.), Rational Choice. Oxford: Blackwell.2) L. Iannaccone, 1990, 'Religious practice: a human capital approach', Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 29: 297-314.3) S. Bruce, 'Religion and rational choice: a critique of economic explanations of religious behaviour', Sociology of Religion, 54: 193-205.4) H. Bredemeier, 1978, 'Exchange theory', pp. 420-56 in T. Bottomore and R. Nisbet (eds), A History of Sociological Thought. New York: Basic Books.5) Lecture Notes.6) J. Sloman, 1996, Economics. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf.One of the pioneers of the rational choice theory has been Gary Becker. He states that this approach can be applied to all human behaviour, including religion. This approach has three assumptions. It assumes that people engage in maximising behaviour. When applying this approach to religion we are not concerned with money. We are concerned with the maximisation of personal benefits. When we make a decision we weigh up the costs and benefits and choose the option which offers the most benefit. Secondly, there are 'markets that with varying degrees of efficiency allow the actions of different participants to function together efficiently.' Thirdly, prices and other market functions can affect demand and supply, controlling desires and affecting the actions of consumers. Becker explains that price is not described in money terms but as a shadow price. For example, muslims cannot drink alcohol.This approach involves four theorems. Firstly, a rise in price reduces the quantity demanded. The example he gives is if people have to put more time and effort into having children then less people will do so. Secondly, a rise in price increases the quantity supplied, the example given is women in the labour market. Thirdly, competitive markets are more efficient then monopolistic markets and lead to the diversity of a product. Fourthly, a tax on the output of a market reduces that output eg the punishment of criminals is a tax on crime.Finke and Iannaccone have applied this theory to religious behaviour and understand that the high degree of religion in America is attributed to the existence of a free market and therefore competition and diversification in religion. Finke argues that in a free market start up costs are low and this leads to new ideas and more diversity and therefore more chance of everyone finding a religion they like. Also in a competitive free market earning a living acts as an incentive to clergy to work harder and try to tailor their religion to suit the demands of the consumer. He also suggests that state monopolies are less efficient in the absence of competition and believes that state churches would therefore allow high costs.Bruce highlights some weaknesses of this theory. He states that the early Christian...

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