How do Religious Markets Emerge?

How do Religious Markets Emerge? (Prof. Dr. Thomas Kern, Dr. Insa Pruisken)

The Protestant field in the US has experienced a profound process of transformation over the past decades: Evangelicalism has considerably gained in influence, so-called "Megachurches" have spread all over the country, and the traditional Protestant denominations have increasingly lost their impact on the religious everyday life of ordinary believers. Contemporary sociological approaches tend to interpret this development either in terms of secularization theory as a decline of religion, or with a critical view to secularization theory as a sign for its increasing importance.

In contrast to both perspectives, the planned project builds on market sociological approaches and proposes a "middle range theory" that looks into the specific institutional conditions of religious change in the US. We assume that the previously dominating "logic of Protestant denominationalism" has been superimposed by a new "logic of religious markets". In this process, firstly, religious competition shifts from the level of denominations to the level of congregations (competitive orientation). Secondly, believers are increasingly perceived as religious "consumers" with congregations tailoring their offers to their expectations (consumer orientation). The project aims at answering two questions: (i) What are the conditions for the institutionalization of the new market logic? (ii) What effects does the institutionalization of markets have on religious participation?

To study these questions, six congregations each from Houston and Minneapolis will be compared in terms of their cultural and social network structures. We expect that the religious market is more established and institutionalized in Houston than in Minneapolis. On this basis, we will examine how religious participation changes under the conditions of the market logic. The project builds on recent qualitative and quantitative methods such as social network analysis (SNA), topic modeling (TM) and qualitative comparative analyses (QCA).

Submitted to the German Research Foundation