Professors Metin Coşgel and Thomas Miceli have recently published an article titled “State and Religion.” The paper develops a theoretical and empirical analysis of the historical relationship between government and religion. The authors argue that an important function of religion throughout history has been to help legitimize the state, thereby reducing both its cost of tax collection and its susceptibility to being overthrown by popular revolt. In this sense, the model is an effort to formalize Marx’s famous dictum that religion serves as “an opiate of the masses.” The model also tries to explain why some regimes, notably communist, have tried to suppress religion. If the actions of the state are contrary to religious doctrine, for example, the state may find it necessary to suppress practice of that religion in order to maintain power. The paper uses a rich set of cross-country data on the relationship between religion and state, as well as examples drawn from history, to evaluate the predictions of the model.
This article, which was published in the September 2009 issue of the Journal of Comparative Economics (UConn working paper version), is part of a larger research agenda that Professors Cosgel and Miceli have recently embarked upon that seeks to examine the interaction of religious, political, and legal institutions from an economic perspective.