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Why Did Pre-Modern States Adopt Big-God Religions?

Stergios Skaperdas and Samarth Vaidya

No 181908, Working Papers from University of California-Irvine, Department of Economics

Abstract: Over the past two millennia successful pre-modern states in Eurasia adopted and cultivated Big-God religions that emphasize (i) the ruler's legitimacy as divinely ordained and (ii) a morality adapted for large-scale societies that can have positive economic effects. We make sense of this development by building on previous research that has conceptualized pre-modern states as maximizing the ruler’s profit. We model the interaction of rulers and subjects who have both material and psychological payoffs, the latter emanating from religious identity. Overall, religion reduces the cost of controlling subjects through the threat of violence, increases production, increases tax revenue, and reduces banditry. A Big-God ruler, who is also a believer, has greater incentives to invest in expanding the number of believers and the intensity of belief, as well as investing in state capacity. Furthermore, such investments are often complementary, mutually reinforcing one another, thus leading to an evolutionary advantage of rulers that adopted Big-God religions.

Keywords: State; Ruler; Anarchy; Religion; Morality; Legitimacy; State capacity (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: D70 H0 N40 P40 Z1 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Pages: 35 pages
Date: 2019-06
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-evo and nep-his
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