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Baylor Awarded Templeton Foundation Grant to Study Economics of Religion

Sept. 28, 2006

Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) has received a $378,862 grant from the John Templeton Foundation to fund ISR's Initiative on the Economics of Religion.

The grant will provide funds for four scholars to investigate the connection between religion and economic growth and the effects of government intervention in religious markets on the practice of religion.

Participating in the initiative will be Dr. Rodney Stark, University Professor of the Social Sciences and co-director of ISR; Dr. Charles M. North, associate professor of economics; Dr. Carl R. Gwin, associate professor of economics at Pepperdine University; and Dr. Byron R. Johnson, professor of sociology and co-director of ISR.

The economics of religion is a newly-developing field that is attracting the interest of scholars around the world, according to Johnson. "Possibly more than any other discipline, the field of economics has the most potential to advance our understanding of the significant role and value of religion in our past, present, and future," he said

The role of religion in economic performance has long been a topic addressed by sociologists and historians, and it has become an increasingly popular topic among economists. Recent economic research suggests that stronger religious beliefs within a country are associated with higher rates of economic growth. However, Johnson believes that to date researchers have not adequately explored the institutional mechanisms through which religion might impact growth, and very little of the existing work takes an empirical, statistical approach to the question.

"Given how much has been written on religion and economic growth, perhaps the most amazing thing is how little - and how poorly - it actually has been studied," Stark said.

The research generated under this grant will improve upon the current state of knowledge on economic growth and religion.

"Despite much of our world continuing to languish in poverty, researchers have not yet adequately studied how religious culture impacts economic outcomes," North said. "The results of our studies will inform policy-makers and allow them to address economic policy in a way that accounts for the effects of religious beliefs and practices around the world."

The grant also will fund workshops that will be held jointly between the Baylor faculty members and faculty at George Mason University, including noted economics-of-religion scholar Laurence R. Iannaccone. These workshops will be designed to spread awareness among scholars, the news media and the general public of the findings of these studies and others within the field of economics of religion.

Additionally, the grant will fund a new survey to be conducted regarding the religious, educational, and financial practices of Americans. This survey "will allow us to understand how individual religious beliefs affect decisions on savings, investment, home ownership and more," Gwin said. "In turn, this knowledge will help us explain how interactions between religion, education, and financial practices affect the overall performance of the economy."

The research initiative is composed of five parts. The first three directly explore the link between religious beliefs and some of the important practices and institutions known to promote economic growth and development.

• Part One focuses on how a country's religious tradition and culture influence the rule of law and reduce corruption, both of which are known to improve economic growth.

• Part Two examines the network effects of spiritual, human and financial capital in fostering economic growth through the new survey data.

• Part Three will explore the historical role of religion in focusing economic actors on growth-enhancing cooperative equilibria.

• Parts Four and Five build on prior work by Stark, North and Gwin to explore how state intervention in religious markets affects the level of religious involvement in modern times as well as ancient.

The knowledge gained from these studies will provide further insight into the best ways in which government can strengthen an economy via the religious market.

"This project will put Baylor economics on the national map and provide a vehicle for professors Gwin and North to be national leaders in the long overdue study of religion and economics," said Johnson.

The John Templeton Foundation offers support for innovative research, teaching and public outreach programs illuminating how the free enterprise system of wealth creation offers practical solutions to poor people around the world. The Foundation supports research about the effectiveness of programs that recreate and promote enterprise-based solutions to poverty, such as fostering new entrepreneurs whose endeavors result in the creation of goods, products and services. While the Foundation's activities in this area are new, the aim is to expand philanthropic activity in this area.

For more on ISR and on the Initiative on the Economics of Religion, contact Johnson at (254) 710-7555 or visit ISR's website at www.isreligion.org. Information on the John Templeton Foundation is available at http://www.templeton.org.

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