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(from a Sociopolitical & Economic Perspective)
Murat Iyigun
AEA Meetings
January 5, 2008
• Turn of the 20th century sociologists, enlightenment
thinkers dealt with the role of religion in society.
– Emile Durkheim (1912), Auguste Comte (1855), David Hume (1911), Max
Weber (1930).
– In the 1930s, the structural-functionalist school led by Talcott Parsons.
• The emphasis has mostly been on the substitution
between scientific knowledge and faith…. But also on the
sociopolitical functions of religion.
• There were and are some economists too.
– Adam Smith (1776), Iannaccone (1992), Barro & McCleary (2005, 2007).
• But typically in a cultural and development context and/or
focus on religiosity in general.
• Economics has made no distinction between
faith & monotheism. But monotheism is very
distinct from other faiths & spiritual movements.
• Why?
– Monopolizes the relationship between the deity and individual;
– By involving the notion of after-life (Heaven & Hell), motivates longerterm accountability;
– Extends individuals’ time horizon.
• These features have sociopolitical & economic
– Domestic Effects;
– External Effects.
Monopoly in Faith
• Stark (2001, p. 19):
– “Polytheistic religions sustain only short-term exchanges, as
humans seek specific and quite immediate benefits from the Gods
and spread their risks by shopping around and patronizing
multiple suppliers. If there is only one God, this necessitates an
exclusive exchange relationship, there being no logical
alternatives... It is illogical to deal with a flock of specialized Gods
if there is One God of unlimited scope and capacity.”
• Armstrong (1993, p. 49):
– “Hostility toward other gods was a new religious attitude [of
monotheism]. Paganism was an essentially tolerant faith: provided
that the old cults were not threatened by the arrival of a new deity,
there was always room for another god alongside the traditional
pantheon. Even where the new ideologies of the Axial Age were
replacing the old veneration of the gods, there was no such
vitriolic rejection of the ancient deities."
• Stark (2001, p. 34):
– An exclusive relationship with One God is also an extended
relationship—usually lifelong. No longer are humans able to go
"God shopping" or to pit one God against another. This results in
extremely strong organizations possessed of immense
resources, consistent with a God of unlimited power and
Stark (2001, p. 15-19):
– Because Gods are conscious beings, they are potential
exchange partners because all beings are assumed to want
something for which they might be induced to give something
valuable. Indeed, the core of Godly religious doctrines consists
of explanations about what Gods want and what one must do to
earn their blessings... That is, Godly religions assume that divine
beings not only have desires they wish humans to fulfill, but that
they can communicate them...”
Time Horizon
• The belief in afterlife is not unique to
monotheisms but, the Judgment Day is.
– In Judaism occurs on Rosh Hashanah. In Christianity, on the
Last Judgment or Day of the Lord. In Islam, the Day of Judgment
is described in the Quran and the Hadith.
– Religions that include reincarnation (e.g., Hinduism) lack a Day
of Judgment; the determination of how an individual is to be
reborn being a particular judgment on the merit of the life just
Intra-Societal Effects
• Marx: “…opium of the people which makes this suffering bearable.”
• Armstrong (1993, p. 48): “portrayal of God in human terms has
inspired a social concern that has not been present in Hinduism. All
three of the God-religions have shared the egalitarian and socialist ethic
of Amos and Isaiah.
• Farrington (2002): While for some empires religion was the main
impetus for their existence, for most of them it served as a means of
social stability and control.
• Religion-specific effects:
– Judaism: Botticini & Eckstein (2005, 2007);
– Protestantism: Weber (1930), Tawney (1926), Becker & Woessmann (2007);
– Islam: Kuran (2004a, 2004b), Lewis (2002).
Extra-Societal Effects
Niebuhr (1932, pp. 65-66) :
– "Patriotism is a form of piety which exists partly through the limitation of
the imagination, and limitation may be expressed by savants as well as by
saints… But since the claims of religion are more absolute than those of
any secular culture the danger of sharpening the self-will of nations
through religion is correspondingly greater.”
• Stark (2001, p. 35) :
– "Polytheistic societies are capable of prodigies of effort including those of
conquest. But the armies of Rome, imperial China, or ancient Egypt did
not march on behalf of divine will—unlike the armies of Islam or those
enlisted by popes for Crusades to the Holy Land. Granted, many Christian
crusaders and Islamic conquerors also had nonreligious motives, and
some may even have been irreligious. But, lacking the powerful religious
justification of doing God's Will, these events would not have taken place.
Only One True God can generate great undertakings out of primarily
religious motivations, chief among these is the desire, indeed the duty, to
spread the knowledge of the One True God..."
(Very) Brief History
• The three big monotheisms were born in a
relatively brief interval of time between 616
B. C. E. and 622 C. E.
• By the turn of the 15th century, about 50
percent of societies adhered to one; By the
turn of the 16th century it was more than 70
• Today, 86 percent of all countries and more
than 55 percent of the world population
adheres to Judaism, Christianity or Islam.
Monotheism By Decade & Societies
• Studying the impact of faith requires an
historical, very long-term perspective &
special emphasis on monotheism.
• Why? Because monotheism began to affect
societies in the pre-Industrial and medieval
eras and it was a significant departure from
polytheism & paganism.
• Hence, relevant question is whether the birth
of monotheisms and their adoptions had an
impact then and over time.
• Granted, it is all about definitions & data.
Time span of analysis?
What qualifies as an independent civilization?
How does one define a monotheist society?
Which states were monotheist?
When was a state born and when did it cease to exist?
• Data cover 2500 B. C. E. to 1750 C. E.
• Some (admittedly flexible) notion of
autonomy and scale
– Exclude principalities, derebeyliks, suzerainties, vassal states;
– Exclude city-states.
• Currently, that leaves me with 232 observations (and
with 267 when I relax the scale rule to include
medieval Greek city states, British Heptarchy
Kingdoms and Anatolian derebeyliks).
• I have another 45 – 50 obs. on which I do not have
complete reliable data.
• Monotheist Society:
– Ruling class and administration adheres to one;
– A majority of the population adheres to one;
– The state fiscal & military policies promote one.
• Do you mean THEOCRACY?
– If the definition is “government ruled by or (to some
extent) subject to religious authority,” then Yes.
Descriptive Statistics
Summary Statistics
More on Data…
• In panel data estimates, the dependent variable is
existence/duration indicator in decade t.
• In cross-section estimates, it is length of duration (in
decades) or peak land mass (in millions of km2).
• With panel-data estimates, we have 233 (# of civilizations)
x 426 (decades) = 99,258 observations. With cross-country
estimates, we have 233 observations.
• Raw correlations yield
– low positive relationship between the birth of three
monotheisms and duration;
– low positive (negative) correlation between duration and
adherence to Judaism or Christianity (Islam);
– low negative (positive) correlation between land mass and
adherence to Judaism or Christianity (Islam).
– negative (positive) correlation between foundation year (land
mass) and duration.
Empirical Estimates
• Panel-Data Specification (Population-Averaged Probit)
• Cross-Section Estimates (OLS and Robust Regressions)
• Some control variables
– Regional Dummies (Middle East, Europe, America, Asia,
– Time trend, lagged dependent variable;
– Dummies for the births of Judaism (606 B. C. E.),
Christianity (0) & Islam (622 C. E.);
– Birth year;
– Specific religion dummy;
– Hinduism/Buddhism dummy, etc.
Alternative Specs & Robustness
• With panel data, fixed-effects specification would be
great but…
• Instead, can try fixed-effects with controls for the
births of monotheisms [Table 6, columns (1) and (2)].
• Truncated panel to pick up directly the positive impact
of monotheism [Table 6, columns (3) – (5)].
• Cross-section estimates with specific monotheism
controls (Judaism, Christianity & Islam).
– Peak Land Mass [Table 7, columns (1) – (3)];
– Duration [Table 7, columns (4) – (6)].
• Lots written on the role of religion in society, politics
and economics.
• Relatively less on monotheism specifically. But there
are reasons to think monotheism has unique attributes
among all faiths.
• Even less work on the empirics of monotheism (and
faith) on societies historically.
• That is what this paper about.
• Monotheism impacted the duration of civilizations
positively (not much difference which one); it also
played a role in the land mass achieved (adherence to
Islam seems to have been more important).