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Economic Origins of Roman Christianity

In the global marketplace of ideas, few realms spark as much conflict as religion. For millions of people, it is an integral part of everyday life, reflected by a widely divergent supply of practices and philosophical perspectives. Yet, historically, the marketplace has not always been competitive. While the early Common Era saw competition between Christianity, Judaism, and the many pagan cults, Roman Christianity came eventually to dominate Western Europe.
Using basic concepts of economic theory, Robert B. Ekelund Jr. and Robert D. Tollison explain the origin and subsequent spread of Roman Christianity, showing first how the standard concepts of risk, cost, and benefit can account for the demand for religion. Then, drawing on the economics of networking, entrepreneurship, and industrial organization, the book explains Christianity’s rapid ascent. Like a business, the church developed sound business strategies that increased its market share to a near monopoly in the medieval period. This book offers a fascinating look at the dynamics of Christianity’s rise, as well as how aspects the church’s structure—developed over the first millennium—illuminate a number of critical problems faced by the church today.

288 pages | 1 line drawing, 6 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2011

Economics and Business: Economics--History

History: European History

Religion: Christianity


“An engrossing and insightful account of the branding of early Christianity through entrepreneurship, networking, manipulation of civil governments, and the control of entry into the Roman religion market. This is a major contribution to the study of religion, giving us a fresh, analytical approach to early Christianity and how it became the powerful medieval church.”

Rachel M. McCleary, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Economic Origins of Roman Christianity takes readers on a sweeping tour of a millennium, introducing us to Saint Paul as entrepreneur, the Nicaean Council as product strategy, and Charlemagne and Pope Leo III as masters of vertical integration. Using economic models, the authors narrate a history of religion that adds a new dimension to our typical view of the political, military, and theological origins of Christianity. There is much here for economists to ponder and enough storytelling to keep history buffs going.”

Larry Witham, author of Marketplace of the Gods: How Economics Explains Religion

 “By applying fundamental economic principles, Ekelund and Tollison shed light on the often mysterious ecclesiastical practices of the Roman Catholic Church as well as its weakening grip as an institutional monopoly in the marketplace of religions. Economic Origins of Roman Christianity will have wide ramifications for economists, sociologists, and political scientists concerned with economic development, the roots of religious plurality, and institutional change.”

Murat Iyigun, University of Colorado

Table of Contents


CHAPTER 1. Roman Christianity: An Evolving Monopoly
Aspiring to Monopoly
A Word on Method 
The Roman Church as a High Medieval Monopoly
Plan of the Book

CHAPTER 2. Religion, History, and Social Science
Adam Smith and Max Weber
Contemporary Theoretical Approaches to the Demand for Religion
Monopoly, Rationality, History, and Religion
Conclusion: Economics and Religious Behavior

CHAPTER 3. Economics of Religious Belief
Nature of the Religious Good
Demands and Contracts for the Religious Good
Conclusion: Focus on First Millennium Christianity

CHAPTER 4. Entrepreneurship, Networking, and the Success of Early Christianity
Economic Analysis and Early Christianity
Entrepreneurship: Proselytizing the New Religion
Network-Consumption Externalities and Credence Issues
The Adoption of Christianity: The Role of Saint Paul

CHAPTER 5. Constantine and Rome’s Acceptance of Christianity
A Theory of the Adoption and Cartelization of Christianity by Rome
Roman Acceptance of Christianity: Economic Factors
The Critical Role of Constantine and the March to Cartelization

CHAPTER 6. The Drive to Church Monopoly Power: Constantine to Charlemagne
Economic Theory and Christianity in the Ninth–Twelfth Centuries
Constantine through Justinian and Gregory I: Centuries of Competition and Consolidation
The Frankish Kingdoms, Charlemagne, and the Rescue of the Roman Papacy
Conclusion: The Roman Church circa the Early Ninth Century

CHAPTER 7. Roman Christian Monopoly in the Early Medieval Period
Introduction: The Bumpy Road to Monopoly
After Charlemagne: Breakdowns, Conflict, and Invasions
Competition with Byzantium and the “Great Schism”
Roman Church Monopoly Solidifies

CHAPTER 8. Conclusion: The Roman Church Monopoly Triumphant
How the Church Reached Monopoly Status
Roman Monopoly Processes and Market Entry
Does the Economics of Early Christianity Relate to Contemporary Religion?
Appendix The Impact of Saint Paul


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