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The Divine Economy: How Religions Compete for Wealth Power and People by Paul Seabright


Paul Seabright teaches economics at the Toulouse School of Economics, and until 2021 was director of the multidisciplinary Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse. From 2021 to 2023, he was a Fellow of All Souls College at the University of Oxford. His books include The War of the Sexes: How Conflict and Cooperation Have Shaped Men and Women from Prehistory to the Present, and The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life.


Religion in the twenty-first century is alive and well across the world, despite its apparent decline in North America and parts of Europe. Vigorous competition between and within religious movements has led to their accumulating great power and wealth. Religions in many traditions have honed their competitive strategies over thousands of years. Today, they are big business; like businesses, they must recruit, raise funds, disburse budgets, manage facilities, organize transportation, motivate employees, and get their message out. In The Divine Economy, economist Paul Seabright argues that religious movements are a special kind of business: they are platforms, bringing together communities of members who seek many different things from one another—spiritual fulfilment, friendship and marriage networks, even business opportunities. Their function as platforms, he contends, is what has allowed religions to consolidate and wield power.


This power can be used for good, especially when religious movements provide their members with insurance against the shocks of modern life, and a sense of worth in their communities. It can also be used for harm: political leaders often instrumentalize religious movements for authoritarian ends, and religious leaders can exploit the trust of members to inflict sexual, emotional, financial or physical abuse, or to provoke violence against outsiders. Writing in a nonpartisan spirit, Seabright uses insights from economics to show how religion and secular society can work together in a world where some people feel no need for religion, but many continue to respond with enthusiasm to its call.


Paul Seabright

The Divine Economy

Saturday 28th September

4pm

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