It isn’t often that law and economics and law and religion meet up, but this book, Economic Origins of Roman Christianity (U. Chicago Press 2011), by Robert B. Ekelund, Jr. and Robert D. Tollison, looks to be an exception. The book is itself an example of how Americans believe that the tools of economics and the market can be fruitfully applied to understand all sorts of social phenomena — indeed, how the metaphor of the market is a natural fit for understanding religious experience. Definitely worth a look, though I am not familiar with the designation, “Roman Christianity” (I’m sure the authors explain why they chose it). The publisher’s description follows.
In the global marketplace of ideas, few realms spark as much conflict as religion. For millions of people, it is an integral part of everyday life, reflected by a widely divergent supply of practices and philosophical perspectives. Yet, historically, the marketplace has not always been competitive. While the early Common Era saw competition between Christianity, Judaism, and the many pagan cults, Roman Christianity came eventually to dominate Western Europe.
Using basic concepts of economic theory, Robert B. Ekelund Jr. and Robert D. Tollison explain the origin and subsequent spread of Roman Christianity, showing first how the standard concepts of risk, cost, and benefit can account for the demand for religion. Then, drawing on the economics of networking, entrepreneurship, and industrial organization, the book explains Christianity’s rapid ascent. Like a business, the church developed sound business strategies that increased its market share to a near monopoly in the medieval period. This book offers a fascinating look at the dynamics of Christianity’s rise, as well as how aspects the church’s structure—developed over the first millennium—illuminate a number of critical problems faced by the Church today.