The Economics of Religious Competition in the 21st century

Despite evidence that the importance of religion in people’s lives has been declining in North America and in parts of Western Europe in recent decades, religion is increasing its appeal to populations in the rest of the world. Drawing on his forthcoming book The Origins of Enchantment: How Religions Compete, economist Paul Seabright locates the secret of the success of modern organized religion in its business model. Religious movements are platforms, facilitating relationships between individuals and appropriating some of the benefits that such relationships create. But they are not just like secular platforms: they create communities around a shared fascination with ritual, and motivate them by tapping into our human need for narratives that explain a complex universe to us and claim to make sense of our lives. This economic vision of religious competition can help us to understand the power that organized religion enjoys in the 21st century, as well as the abuses to which that power can sometimes lead.

About the speaker: Paul Seabright is a professor of economics at the Toulouse School of Economics and a visiting fellow at All Souls College. As a PPE graduate and an ex-examination fellow at All Souls college, Paul is interested in how economics interacts with other fields, especially in the integration of evolutionary biology and anthropology with an understanding of the development of economic institutions in the very long run.