Two centuries after Adam Smith illuminated the workings of the marketplace, a new movement among economists and social scientists is expanding his insights into a groundbreaking "economics of religion." Using cutting edge ideas from the behavioral sciences, and a deep knowledge of religious history, this new approach is making sense not only of past beliefs, but of religion today.
In Marketplace of the Gods, award-winning journalist Larry Witham tells the inside story of this expanding "economic approach" to religion, the puzzles it tries to solve, the controversies it has stirred, and the people who are making it happen. He shows that the economic approach, while evoking images of stock markets or accounting ledgers, actually begins with a simple idea about human beings as rational actors, judging costs and benefits in life. Every life has limits, so human experience is a series of trade-offs, balancing resources to make choices for the best possible benefits. As the economics of religion shows, this model can be applied to the rich story of the human race and its gods. Beginning with the individual, the choices in religion shape households, groups, movements, and entire "religious economies" of nations. On the one hand, this mixing of the profane and the sacred, the economic and the religious, is an exciting exchange of ideas between economics, sociology, psychology, history, and theology. On the other, it has spurred a lively protest. Indeed, for some, the economic approach seems to transform our good angels into grubby consumers.
As Witham shows, however, the economic approach to religion has insights for everyone, believers and skeptics alike. He illuminates this approach in a volume rich with ideas, history, contemporary events, and the insights of some of our sharpest modern-day thinkers.
Larry Witham iis a veteran journalist and author who has covered current events, history, religion and society, science, and philosophy for more than two decades. Now a full-time author, he has written twelve books, including the recent award-winning Who Shall Lead Them?. Witham has contributed to publications ranging from the Christian Century and Beliefnet to Nature and Scientific American, and he has been on C-SPAN, Fox News, public television, and dozens of radio programs including affiliates of National Public Radio. He lives in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC.
"Offer[s] insight into the way economic theories try to explain some of modernity's most perplexing issues...In a world dominated by the marketplace, books such as this one are an important part of the conversation." --Publishers Weekly
"Witham makes accessible the fundamentals of the economics of religion, demonstrating the growing importance and popularity of the field. I recommend this book to anyone looking for a layman's introduction to the economics of religion." --Rachel M. McCleary, Senior Research Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School
"Marketplace of the Gods
is both a pleasant read and a comprehensive overview of the economics of religion, appealing to general audiences, scholars, and theologians alike. Readers of this precise scholarly work will gain insight into the peculiar way economists view religion in particular and human behavior in general." --Brooks B. Hull, Professor of Economics, University of Michigan, Dearborn
"In this cogent book, Larry Witham describes the development and the insights of a broad academic literature that uses economics to explain the organization, evolution, and impact of religions. His mastery of the debates and grasp of the proposed theories are impressive. Readers ranging from the uninitiated to professional economists who specialize in religion will find Marketplace of the Gods
informative and provocative, but also entertaining." --Timur Kuran, Professor of Economics and Political Science and Gorter Family Professor of Islamic Studies, Duke University
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