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a return to Narnia – Alan Jacobs

Anthony Gill Lecture

April 10, 2019 @ 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm
Cox Lecture Hall, Armstrong Browning Library

The Comparative Endurance and Efficiency of Religion: A Public Choice Approach

Despite being the neglected child of the social sciences, the world’s major religious institutions and faith traditions have managed to survive longer than any secular political regime, dynasty, or empire in world history.  The Roman Catholic Church (and its Orthodox counterparts) have existed as formal hierarchical institutions for nearly two millennia, and the Vatican counts roughly one billion adherents among its contemporary constituency.  Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam have persisted in less hierarchical form for equally long (if not longer) periods of time with no prospect of disappearing soon.  Why?  And why wouldn’t social scientists want to explore this obvious fact?  I argue that religious institutions provide critical public goods (including social trust and order) without falling prey to what James Buchanan calls the “paradox of being governed.”  By having an external, non-partisan judge (God) as the final arbitrator of conflict, a system of justice that allows for flexibility, and autonomy for local congregations to provide public goods, religious institutions are less subject to injurious forms of rent-seeking that bedevil (and destroy) secular states.   A caveat about “state-sponsored churches” is provided and explains why connection to political power weakens the institutional efficiency and endurance of religious groups.