Edited by Jan Peil and Irene van Staveren
Chapter 57: Religion
Robert H. Nelson After long neglect, the subject of religion has received growing attention in the economics profession over the past two decades. One of the reasons is that it has proven difficult to explain the levels of economic development of many nations around the world without reference to a national culture, and many of these cultures have been significantly influenced by religion. Contrary to a wide expectation in the modern era that the role of religion would gradually diminish, and perhaps eventually disappear, in many parts of the world various forms of religious fundamentalism have instead been growing, both in numbers of followers and in political and economic impact. In economic terms, individual consumers can be said to demand a variety of forms of religious activity as part of their maximization of utility, and producers of religion have emerged to supply religious services in an overall market for religion. There is also increasing understanding that secular religions, such as Marxism and the American progressive ‘gospel of efficiency’, incorporate economic arguments while borrowing heavily from traditional Christian sources, which is one of the reasons for their success. In the intellectual sphere in general, there has been a blurring of the lines between secular religion and traditional religion, reflecting that the category of religion can legitimately include fundamental belief systems that may or may not include a God in the hereafter. A religion of economics may be one in that category. The subject of religion and economics is large and diverse....
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