Religious Economies and Religious Mobility: The Christian West and the Islamic East and Africa

Religious Economies and Religious Mobility: The Christian West and the Islamic East and Africa

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9731-7.ch012
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Religious economies are a novel idea with potential application in a free market economy. They bring the idea of the existence of the supernatural and concern with ultimate meanings, so ubiquitous to religions, in touch with the multiplicity of paths available to us. In Islamic Sufism, there are as many paths to God as there are individuals. A situation in which people could compare and evaluate religions, regarding them as a matter of choice, can best described as a religious economy. Just as commercial economies consist of a market in which different firms compete, religious economies consist of a market (the aggregate demand for religion) and firms (different religious organizations) seeking to attract and hold clienteles. Just as commercial economies must deal with state regulations, religious economies' key issue is the degree to which they are regulated by the state. From Stark's viewpoint, the natural state of a religious economy is religious pluralism, wherein many religious “firms” exist because of their special appeal to certain segments of the market or the population. However, just as there is incentive for a commercial organization to monopolize the market to maximize its profit, it is always in the interest of any particular religious organization to secure a monopoly, maintain its followers, and expand into new interest groups. This can be achieved, (and even then to a very limited extent) only if the state forcibly excludes competing faiths (Stark, 2001). The building blocks of Stark's ideas are the assumption of a free market, a market economy, and the key issue of rational choice theory, hand in hand with American Pragmatism. As with the history of religions, which are not and have not been free from contest and cooperation, similarities, and differences, so religious economies have not been and are not easily shaped without considering forces from within and among different economies. Religious actions, reactions, and interactions in monotheism, diversity of textual interpretations, the growth of intellectualism or counter-intellectualism, human perception of transcendence and the sacred, as well as the realities of everyday life, all imply that the idea of religious economies needs more exploration. Christianity and Islam, one dominating the West and the other the East and Africa, offer the instances of two massive markets. Each religion has more than a billion adherents and a history of sharing the monotheistic market. Both religions, in spite of Islamophobia in the West, have formed and will participate in the decline, incline, or stability of the market. This subject is timely in light of the political movements in the Middle East and monolithic misconception of Islam.
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And they say, ‘Be Jews or Christians, and you shall be guided, Say thou: ‘Nay, rather the creed of Abraham, a man of pure faith; he was no idolater.’ (Qur’an 2.123)



According to Stark (2001), who suggested the notion of religious economies and was influenced by Paul Johnson’s book, A History of Christianity, and Wayne Meeks’ The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul, as societies became more complex they began to include several cultures and religions. Stark gives examples of the larger cities of ancient Egypt, Greece, and the Roman Empire that contained a variety of different religions. In such cities, people could compare religions and regard religion as a matter of choice, as with a market economy.

Social scientists have noticed the growth of Islam beyond its primary territories in the Middle East. Indeed, such growth would be alarming for those in Christianity who focus on their own socialization and have developed a sense of religious monopoly, attempting to dominate the market by assuming that their own transmitted religion is the only truthful one. As a matter of fact, the emergence of Islam challenged the monopoly on a monotheistic conception of God by slashing the religious market to get its share of the pie from Judaism and Christianity. Islam manifests a challenge to the monopoly by asserting that there is neither a chosen people nor a personal representation of the deity. Furthermore, Islam has broadened its market with its extensive heterogeneity and the ease and comfort with which it merges with different cultures. Islamic expansion has occurred in spite of the many (largely unsuccessful) endeavors made by white Christian missionaries to covert Muslims. The Islamic market has devised different strategies to push back, beginning with its simple message of connecting the individual to the transcendent by starting with the Shahadat, or confession of faith. Of course, there is the possibility in Islam that a Sunni may turn to Shi’ism or otherwise, but in general such a ‘conversion’ would not have an impact on the diversification of denominations in the Islamic world; both Shi’ite and Sunni are Muslim, following the same Book, and a singular Prophet.

The Islamic vision is inclusive, despite the fact that its place of origin could, in the beginning, impose exclusion. Within the Islamic world, the diversified religious market may face the problem of exclusion. But the heart of the problem, as Watt noticed, is to decide how far a group must deviate in doctrine or practice before it is excluded from Islam. It is worth remembering that Ghazali (d. 1111) warned against declaring men to be infidels on insufficient grounds; there is always a temptation for the dominant majority to use the cry of kufr or shirk (unbelief, polytheism) against a minority which is disliked (Watt, 1979).

It is notable that the Islamic religious market, by absorbing Judaism and Christianity and their representatives, Moses and Jesus, has already preempted or challenged offensive strategies to its emergence. That is, unless economic and political incentives could stimulate a novice to move from one market to another. The pluralism of fundamentalists or messianic movements throughout Islamic history down to the present time have revolved around defending Islam. This simply means protecting its market, the faithful, from any manipulative marketing of competing forces, whether political or religious. However, given inadmissible evidence and critiques by Western Christians or non-Christian observers of certain movements in the name of political Islam, the reality is that the Islamic claim to universality will collide, as it has before, with other universal or ethnic cultural traditions, either in principle as ideologies, or as religions in terms of practice or scripture. But the fact of collision is concomitant with commonalities among monotheistic religions too. Thus, speaking of the collisions of Islam with ethnic Zoroastrianism or non-ethnic religions and traditions in the conclusion of this chapter serves two purposes. First, in Iran, the magnitude of the collision within Islam between a metropolitan tradition, as opposed to the subtle background of Greece and India, and tribal structure has been drastic. It has affected Iran so deeply that it has left its lingering effects on the Iranian psyche to the present day, in the form of both pro and con attitudes toward Islam.

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