15 May 2010

Why is America so much more religious than Europe?

it is precisely the de-regulation of the religious market and not, as is often assumed, the residue of the “puritan founding” that explains why Americans are so much more religious that Europeans. [Finke and Stark] estimate that rates of religious adherence in the colonies reached their maximum at about 20% and religiosity took off only after previously protected monopolists lost their privileged access to colonial markets (starting in 1776).

From William Roberts Clark in a survey essay on the political economy of religion.

The religious markets approach typically explains variation across time and space in terms of the regulatory environment. In the absence of over-regulation of religious markets, a variety of religious firms hawking variegated religious products can be expected to arise in response to the natural heterogeneity of religious preferences. Consequently, one would expect to find a vibrant religious market where the regulatory environment allows low cost entry of new firms and where state-run monopolies are absent.

The theory also fits with experience in Latin America:

As the Catholic Church lost its ability or willingness to impose monopolies, Latin America countries came under increased pressure from protestant groups who attracted many followers and also spurred Catholics into action

The essay also disputes the phenomena of significant secularisation in Europe:

Stark places one more nail in the secularization hypothesis by arguing that its acceptance has been fueled in part by what he calls the “myth of past piety” in Europe. Current differences in religious behavior between  the U.S. and Europe are  not  the  result  of  secularization  in Europe but  rather  the  fact  that Europe was never as christianized  as  commonly believed.  In 1551 the Bishop of Gloucester  found,  for example,  that more than half of his 311 parish priests could not recite the Ten Commandments


Anonymous said...


Andries043 said...

This explanation seems initially plausible, but is completely misguided. There is more than three centuries of religious freedom in the Netherlands, but it is not a religious country anymore.

Lee Crawfurd said...

Do you have an alternative hypothesis?

I think that it maybe has something to do with urbanisation - Europe being more densely populated and therefore more urbanised, with cities forcing people to interact with a wider variety of perspectives. But I have no evidence for that hypothesis. 

Andries043 said...

On second thoughts, the blog post may be right about Latin America, but they try to explain too much with religious freedom. Religion is a complex phenomenon and cannot be explained with just one factor.

I in the Netherlands and do not know very much about religion in the USA.

What I think may be factors.
1. social pressure: you are not a good person if your religion does not tell you what is good and bad. This pressure does not exist in the Netherlands.
2. religion works to relieve anxiety which may be stronger in the USA due to poor social security and little job security
3. people tend to move more in the USA. Church help to expand your social circle which is easy after you have just moved

Potterfan392 said...

I think it is because Europe has seen how much violence religion causes: from The Crusades, to The Spanish Inquisition, to the conflict in Ireland, to the Holocaust, European history is full of religious wars. The only occurrences of religious violence America has seen are the Salem Witch Trials and 9-11. While these events were certainly tragic, they did not approach the scale of fighting in Europe.

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