This week we have a recording of a lecture delivered at the 2020 ASSA meetings in San Diego. At that conference, the association of Christian economists sponsored two sessions, and the one I will highlight here was a series of talks on Adam Smith and religion. In this episode, Paul Oslington gives a short talk about Adam Smith’s writing on the economics of religion.
Oslington argues that while Smith did not formulate a comprehensive theory of the economics of religion, that if you gather his writing about the state church, religious competition, clergy pay, and related topics, a surprisingly sophisticated account emerges. For those of you who are interested in Adam Smith’s thinking, or in the economics of religion, this short talk will be intriguing.
Paul Oslington is a longtime member of the Association of Christian Economics, is a member of the editorial board for Faith & Economics, and is an important name for those working at the intersection of economics and theology. He is currently Dean of business and professor of economics at Alphacrucis College in Sydney, Australia.
This lecture comes out of a chapter that was written for the Routledge Handbook of Economic Theology.
An early draft of this chapter can be found here.
Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations provides an economic analysis of the provision of religious education and aspects of the church, picking up on his friend David Hume’s discussion of church establishment in his History of England. Smith and Hume of course are not alone, for economic arguments about church establishment, toleration of other religious groups, financial support of clergy, and related issues, were deployed by Richard Hooker, William Warburton, William Paley, Josiah Tucker, Jeremy Bentham, Edmund Burke, Richard Whately, Thomas Chalmers, and others. Their philosophical framework and arguments, however are quite different to those employed in the contemporary rational choice economics of religion. Smith argues, against Hume, for the virtues of religious competition, for voluntary contributions alongside state support of religion, and limited democracy in relation to church appointments. A properly constituted religious market Smith suggests will generate benefits for society. Smith’s arguments about religious competition are connected to his larger philosophical framework, in particular his understanding of the fall and divine providence.