What Makes a Church Strong? Rewards, Rational Choice, and the Potentially Undermining Effects of Reward Structures at Church- Affiliated Colleges and Universities

Robin Perrin

Rational choice explanations of religious conversion and commitment have been vilified in some Christian circles because, critics charge, such explanations undermine and debunk the sacrificial elements of religious commitment. Robin Perrin argues, however, that rational choice theory is not antireligious or anti-Christian. On the contrary, he maintains that an understanding of rational choice theory may help us identify factors that make churches strong or weak. Specifically, he focuses on the potential consequences for Christian churches when church-affiliated colleges and universities provide material rewards, either implicitly or explicitly, for religious participation. He considers several practices, including faculty hiring, promotion, tenure decisions, admission and financial aid decisions for students, and the provision of ministerial tax advantages for faculty. Such practices, he argues, run the risk of reducing the average level of commitment to the otherworldly rewards that are central to the religious enterprise. Mr. Perrin is Professor of Sociology at Pepperdine University.

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Last Updated: January 21, 2008
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