Abstract

Religions typically prescribe their followers to display distinct behavior in consumption, production, and exchange. Well-known are the examples of Catholics not eating meat on Fridays during Lent, Hindus being vegetarian and Muslims and Jews avoiding pork, Muslims praying five times a day, and Jews and Christians observing the Sabbath. As a common theme in these examples, individuals are asked to commit to a behavioral pattern by consistently choosing one course of action over its alternatives and not to deviate from the pattern even as circumstances (e.g., prices, cost, endowment) change. Although some followers of a religion may not be observing a prescribed behavior strictly and there may be some nonreligious individuals who might also be displaying the same pattern, that all followers typically observe the same pattern but with varying levels of compliance nevertheless suggests a source of behavioral commitment emanating from religious belief. Economists typically approach this type of behavior in one of two general ways. The first is to view religious behavior as being less rational or outright irrational and thus outside of the domain of economics. An alternative approach that has recently grown in popularity has been to provide economic explanations of the nature and consequences of religious behavior. These explanations typically apply economic concepts and models by viewing believers as rational consumers and religious organizations as clubs or firms that collectively constitute a religious market. Supply side factors like differences in opportunity sets, demand side factors like distinct preferences of believers, or social factors like peer-pressure have been variously proposed to explain distinct behavior.1 We advocate a third general approach in this paper by borrowing insights from other disciplines, particularly from philosophy. Identifying the weaknesses of previous economic explanations, we offer an alternative explanation that relies on philosophical discussions on the concept of integrity. We use the notion of integrity defined as identity-conferring commitments to develop an economic analysis of choice. Focusing on religious behavior, we use the analysis to show the way the influence of commitment on behavior differs from those of preferences and social pressure. We also discuss extensions of the argument to related issues such as the multiplicity of the dimensions of identity.

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