Sherlock - Religiosity as a public good

Sherlock - Religiosity as a public good - Religiosity as a...

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Unformatted text preview: Religiosity as a public good Richard Sherlock Department of Languages, Philosophy, and Speech Communication Utah State University Logan, UT 84322 USA Richard.sherlock@usu.edu A BSTRACT . Public Goods can be seen as one important way in which societies sustain themselves over time. These are part of the puzzle of the development of political order. Public goods like the rule of law are non- substractable and non-excludable . For economists the classic textbook examples are national defense and police protection. In this paper I argue that religiosity can function like police protection, a means of sustaining order through fear of punishment from a transcendent source. As a means of reducing defection from social norms it has a role to play as a public good. But religion cannot at the same time be seen as the source of such norms or dissention will undermine the very order that punishment seems to reinforce. S ince the beginning of the Western intellectual tradition, the complex relations between religion and social order have been a persistent theme of political thinkers as well as, more recently, sociologists, anthropologists, and others. Even thinkers who are demonstrably and passionately hostile to any religion have recognized the power of religion in politics. This paper is a preliminary attempt to understand the relation between religion and politics by seeing religion as a public good. My analogy is to police protection, which economists often use as a textbook example of a public good that reduces defection from social coop- eration. Paradoxically, seeing religion in this way will also shed light on the difficulties of relating religion and politics, i.e., the problems for cooperation in so doing. Religion: What is it? The attempt to carefully specify what religion is has consumed scholarship in multiple fields for decades. I shall not enter into the fray here. Religion may be what philosophers have called a cluster concept. Each case where the concept is instantiated is not identical to every other. What they have are some core character- istics that are similar, with novelty also present in every instance. Whatever the proper understanding of religion per se is, it is true that the oldest remnants of human societies show features that are unmistakably religious: birth and death rituals, vegetation and harvest celebra- tions, and rites that seem to connect temporal life with cosmic or unseen forces. If human beings are as Aristotle famously proclaimed political animals, we are also religious animals. Homo religiosis is a fact acknowledged by unbelievers and those with widely differing views on what constitutes religion as such....
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This note was uploaded on 12/20/2010 for the course SOC 101 taught by Professor Sullivan during the Spring '08 term at ASU.

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Sherlock - Religiosity as a public good - Religiosity as a...

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