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Political Research Exchange

Religion and Public Goods Provision: Experimental and Interview Evidence From Catholicism and Islam

Political Methodology
Carolyn Warner
Arizona State University
Carolyn Warner
Arizona State University

Religions such as Catholicism and Islam are generators of substantial amounts of charitable donations and volunteer work, and they sustain themselves as organizations. How do they produce charitable public goods and their own religious club goods when they are open to extensive free-riding? We re-frame this question to ask what are the institutional and spiritual mechanisms that enable religious communities to produce club and public goods? We argue that mainstream religions facilitate club and public goods provision by using their community structures and their theological belief systems to activate the pro-social tendencies of their members. The study is based on in-field essay-prime experiments with over 800 Catholics and Muslims in Dublin and Istanbul and on case study-based interviews with over 200 Catholics and Muslims in Dublin, Istanbul, Milan and Paris. Our findings highlight the role of the religious concepts of duty to God, God’s grace, and deservingness on adherents of the two religions, as well as religious community, though not in the way typically expected by rational choice theory. The evidence shows support for understanding individuals as being pro-social, not just strictly self-interested utility maximizers. Our argument about the role of beliefs and community help explain why mainstream religions can produce club and public goods despite their lack of strong monitoring and sanctioning mechanisms. The paper also demonstrates the advantages of using a methodology that combines field experiments with case study-based interviews.
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