The Supply Side Effects of Religious Regulations

Author Buğra Kalkan*

Last week, I made an introduction to the religious markets theory. In brief, religious markets theory focuses on the supply side of the religious affairs instead of questioning the source of the religious beliefs. Why focusing on the supply side of the religious affairs matters? Because supply side is largely the determinant of how the religious groups is/will be organized and how the religious people cultivate their behavior within their respective group and also towards their environment. Therefore, changing the conditions of the suppliers of the religious services will have lasting effects on the religious organizations and beliefs regardless the content of that respective religion.

But what/who determines the conditions of the religious suppliers? For sure, government regulations are responsible for the conditions of suppliers of religious services to a great extent. In most of the cases, governments seek to monopolize religious affairs and religious organizations through different kinds of regulations. Monopolization of religious affairs implies severe restrictions on the entrance to religious markets and how religious needs to be served and the numbers of the “legitimate” religions or religious beliefs.

Countries ruled under the Sharia Law, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, seek to determine both the religious supply and the religious demand. Mass piety is the rule in these countries, and going against to the official religious and religious practices is illegitimate, and the religious monopoly is enforced by severe punishments. Radical religious groups that are in contradiction with the ideal of the plural society is the biggest problem of these countries. Partly-free Muslim-majority countries, such as Turkey and Tunisia, largely seek to monopolize the supply of the religious services as a way to control the religious groups and beliefs. The political tension between the secular-oriented citizens and the religious-oriented citizens emerged as a consequence ofthe institutionalization problems of plural society is the main source conflict in these countries.

Christian majority countries of Europe, such as Scandinavian countries, also have highly regulated religious markets in regard to the supply side of the religions. According to the religious markets theorist, such as R. Stark, L. Iannacconne, R. Finke etc., the low level of religious attendance to Church services is a result of the regulations on the supply of religious services and also the subsidized religious services of selected denominations through taxing, which impede incentives of the religious suppliers to provide innovative ways to reach to people in order to satisfy their religious needs. However, the biggest problem of the Western countries is the raising religious intolerance against Muslims, which threatens the pluralist ideal in Europe. And, religious regulations also have something to do with this emergent issue.

So, what are the consequences of the religious regulations? The more government regulations increase, the more the religious attendance decreases. So, the capacity of a single denomination, a church or a religious group, to monopolize the religious economy depends on to what extent the state uses its coercive power to stop competitors entering to the religious market. The “high” level of religious attendance in United States in compare to the “low” level of religious attendance in Western Europe is related to religious regulations. 

The first question that pops up in mind is how to evaluate the religious attendance in Medieval Europe or Muslim-majority countries under Sharia Law. There are many evidences that the mass religious attendance is a myth in Medieval Europe. It is strongly claimed by A. Greely, D. Gentilcore, P. Johnson etc. that most of the Europe under the Catholic monopoly was not Christian enough with regard to the religious participation. Catholic religious practices were mostly a phenomenon among the aristocracy in cities. This also partly explains the fast spreading rates of the Protestant denominations after the collapse of the Catholic monopoly in Medieval Europe.

But what about the Muslim-majority countries under Sharia Law? According to the Stark and Iannaccone, the more the religious monopoly strengthens the more the dominant denomination will seek to exert its influence over other institutions. This phenomenon is called as sacralization rather than religiosity. To Stark and Iannaconne, in sacralized societies, “the primary aspect of life, from family to politics will be suffused with religious symbols, rhetoric, and rituals”. In these societies, public and political life is dominated by religious symbols and ceremonies, and the private sphere of individuals untouched by these religious intervention is highly restricted.For sure, countries under Sharia Law are highly sacralized societies, such as Iran, but it does not necessarily mean that “un-coerced” religious attendance is also high in these societies.

Of course there are many Muslim-majority countries where the voluntary attendance is high to the radical religious groups, such as Afghanistan, Egypt or Philistine. In these societies, both the religious regulation and the religious participation are high. So, how can the religious market theory explain this situation? In order to answer this question, we need to understand the political reasons of the religious regulations.Religious participation can also be evaluated as political participation where political movements are organized as religious groups. Although all religious regulations are political actions, the political orientation of the religious groups in “failed states” is much more obvious.

When the conflict between the groups emerged as consequence of failed state institutions, political movements tend to organize around religious beliefs. And the where the coercive conflicts arise between different religious groups, the high cost/high loyalty strategy emerges among the religious groups. In order to understand political orientation of the religious groups and the high cost/high loyalty strategy, we need to investigate more on the political reasons of the religious regulations. This is a topic for the next week.

(*) Dr. Bugra Kalkan is a professor of political science in Katip Celebi University, Izmir. He is also a senior academic fellow in the Association for Liberal Thinking, Turkey.