Religion has not been a popular target for economic analysis. Yet the tools of economics can offer deep insights into how religious groups compete, deliver social services, and reach out to potential converts—how, in daily life, religions nurture and deploy market power. Sriya Iyer puts these tools to use in an expansive, creative study of India, one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world.
Iyer explores how growth, inequality, education, technology, and social trends both affect and are affected by religious groups. Her exceptionally rich data—drawn from ten years of research, including a survey of almost 600 religious organizations in seven states—reveal the many ways religions interact with social welfare and political conflict. After India’s economy was liberalized in 1991, she shows, religious organizations substantially increased their provision of services, compensating for the retreat of the state. Iyer’s data also indicate that religious violence is more common where economic growth is higher, apparently because growth increases inequality, which sectarian politicians might exploit to encourage hostility toward other religions. As inequality leads to social polarization, religious doctrines become more extreme. But there are hopeful patterns in Iyer’s data, too. Religious organizations, on balance, play a positive role in India’s socioeconomic development, and women’s participation in religious life is on the rise.
The Economics of Religion in India has much to teach us about India and other pluralistic societies the world over, and about the power of economics to illuminate some of societies’ deepest beliefs and dynamics.
Reminds us of old truths—for example, that religion is a cultural expression of deep emotional and imaginative hunger (what Iyer calls ‘spiritual’)—while arguing that it is often ‘a rational economic response’ to changing social environments. In so doing, Iyer gently but effectively challenges more narrow concepts of rational choice.
Economists are increasingly taking the importance of religion seriously in their work. Sriya Iyer is a leader in the field and has produced a major work which provides a distinctive and original perspective on religion in India. It will be of interest to anyone who wishes to see what an economic approach can bring to discussions of religion.
Quite possibly the most original, certainly the freshest, reading of Hinduism and its place in Indian society in a long time. It is a marked contribution to the economics of religion.
The Economics of Religion in India is a model of clarity, lucidity, and comprehensive discussion. Iyer crafts an interdisciplinary piece of scholarship that illuminates many facets of the economics of religion in the Indian context.
Iyer is a world-class scholar with world-class insights. This is a must-read book for all who study the economics of religion, and a gold mine for anyone seeking to understand the role of religion in Indian society.
Sriya Iyer has given us a creative, intellectually rich discussion of religion in India and its effects on social-service provision and economic development. Her knowledge of the Indian religion market combines with her command of economics to produce a major contribution to the economics of religion.
- 304 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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