Proposal preview

Conversion out of Poverty? Religion and Development in a Long-run Global Perspective

Economists and sociologists have long debated the role of religion in social and economic development (Weber 1905, McCleary and Barro 2006). In recent years, research in economic history has witnessed renewed interest in the root causes and long-term consequences of religious change in the past. While scholars continue to be fascinated by the long-run impact of the Protestant Reformation in Europe (Becker and Woessmann 2008, 2010) and the role of Islamic Law for the Middle East’s divergence from Western Europe (Kuran 2012), a new wave of scholarship has recently emerged, exploring the long-term effects of Christian missionary activities in Africa (Nunn 2010, 2014; Frankema 2012; Cogneau and Moradi 2014; Meier zu Selhausen 2014; Cagé and Rueda 2016; Meier zu Selhausen et al. 2017), Latin America (Valencia Caicedo 2014; Waldinger 2017) and Asia (Bai and Kung 2015; Calvi and Mantovanelli 2016) on contemporary development outcomes. Relatedly, the origins of the spread of Islam have been investigated by Michalopolous, Naghavi and Prarolo (2015), the heterogeneous religious effects of state industrialization and mass-education in Egypt shown by Saleh (2015, 2016), the relationship between witchcraft beliefs and trust demonstrated by Gershman (2016), and the role of education in the rise of European secularization documented by Becker, Nagler and Woessmann (2017).

Religious change is an important example of institutional change, the historical origins and long-term effects of which are areas of wide-ranging importance in economic history for debates concerning the emergence of economic growth and human capital formation. Despite the vast resurgence of this field, there remain many open questions and methods to be studied: What determines the adoption of new religious beliefs among individuals and societies? And what have been the actual benefits of religious conversion? Relatedly, how does religiosity affect individual characteristics and thereby influence economic performance? Vice versa, how have economic development and political (or colonial) institutions affected the diffusion of religious beliefs in the past?

The purpose of this session is to pursue these questions and facilitate the dialogue between economic historians studying the historical process and enduring significance of religious change in a global comparative perspective. There is no regional, nor period preference. Papers on all aspects of the causes and long-run socioeconomic consequences of religious diffusion are welcome. We especially hope to shed light on new quantitative tools, sources and methods to advance our comparative understanding about the specific mechanisms of the historical link between religion and development across the globe.

Organizer(s)

  • Felix Meier zu Selhausen University of Sussex fm272@sussex.ac.uk United Kingdom

Session members

  • Jan Luiten van Zanden, Utrecht University
  • Auke Rijpma, Utrecht University
  • Julia Cagé, Science Po
  • Valeria Rueda, University of Oxford
  • Felipe Valencia Caicedo, Vancouver School of Economics
  • Federico Mantovanelli, Analysis Group
  • Rossella Calvi, Rice University
  • Kerstin Enflo, Lund University
  • Alexandra L. Cermeño, Lund University
  • Lauren Hoehn Velasco, Boston College
  • Felix Meier zu Selhausen, University of Sussex

Discussant(s)

Papers

Panel abstract

The role of religion for social and economic development has been long debated by economists and sociologists. Religious change is an important example of institutional and cultural change, correlated with a range of economic and political outcomes both within and across countries. Recent research in economic history has witnessed renewed interest in the root causes and long-term consequences of religious change in the past. While scholars continue to be fascinated by the long-run impact of the Protestant Reformation and the role of Islam for the Middle East’s divergence from Western Europe, a growing wave of scholarship has emerged, exploring the long-term effects of Christian missionary activities in Africa, Latin America and Asia on contemporary development outcomes. This session aims to raise new questions and methods for better understanding the historical process of religious expansion and its enduring significance for socio-economic development in a global comparative perspective.

1st half

Cathedrals and the European Economy

Eltjo Buringh, Bruce Campbell, Auke Rijpma, Jan Luiten van Zanden

The large cathedrals and churches of Europe have long fascinated economic historians. Since the building boom of 1000-1300 coincided with a transformative period for the European economy, it is natural wonder whether they were an impetus to the economy, driven by broader economic development, or dragging the economy down. This paper sheds new light on this question. It investigates the relation between church building and the development of Europe’s urban system between 700-1500. The basis for this work is a new, spatially detailed database on the construction history of all large urban churches in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, and the Netherlands. What was the link with the reform and renaissance of the Catholic Church, agricultural innovation (the heavy plough for example), institutional change (the development of the classic feudal system) or the re-establishment of commercial contact with the East?

The large cathedrals and churches of Europe have long fascinated economic historians. Since the building boom of 1000-1300 coincided with a transformative period for the European economy, it is natural wonder whether they were an impetus to the economy, driven by broader economic development, or dragging the economy down. This paper sheds new light on this question. It investigates the relation between church building and the development of Europe’s urban system between 700-1500. The basis for this work is a new, spatially detailed database on the construction history of all large urban churches in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, and the Netherlands. What was the link with the reform and renaissance of the Catholic Church, agricultural innovation (the heavy plough for example), institutional change (the development of the classic feudal system) or the re-establishment of commercial contact with the East?

Building up Faith: The Persistence of Wealth and Church Investments in Medieval Sweden

Kerstin Enflo, Alexandra L. Cermeño

This paper analyzes the correlation between wealth and church building activities in Medieval Sweden. Recent research suggests that the church stock can be treated as a measure of economic activity: on the one hand, it signals local government's faith in the future and capacity to manage common resources to become investments into public services. On the other hand, churches express local variations in cultural beliefs that might determine human capital and economic performance. We analyze a geocoded dataset of 2,437 Swedish church sites with information on their year of construction, major reconstructions, and building materials from the onset of Christianity until Reformation. We correlate these events with parish-level measures related to economic capacity: local wealth, population density, and agricultural surplus. Our study informs about the extent to which early church data can be interpreted as sign of economic capacity by economic historians in periods when other data lack reliability.

This paper analyzes the correlation between wealth and church building activities in Medieval Sweden. Recent research suggests that the church stock can be treated as a measure of economic activity: on the one hand, it signals local government's faith in the future and capacity to manage common resources to become investments into public services. On the other hand, churches express local variations in cultural beliefs that might determine human capital and economic performance. We analyze a geocoded dataset of 2,437 Swedish church sites with information on their year of construction, major reconstructions, and building materials from the onset of Christianity until Reformation. We correlate these events with parish-level measures related to economic capacity: local wealth, population density, and agricultural surplus. Our study informs about the extent to which early church data can be interpreted as sign of economic capacity by economic historians in periods when other data lack reliability.

Christ’s Shadow: Non-Cognitive Skills and Pro-Social Behavior Amongst the Guarani

Felipe Valencia Caicedo, Hans-Joachim Voth

This article studies human capital formation, beyond formal education, among the Guarani, in modern-day Paraguay and Argentina. We focus on non-cognitive skills and pro-social behavior by conducting a household survey and performing lab-in-the-field experiments in the areas where Catholic religious missionaries proselytized historically. We find higher non-cognitive skills and pro-social behavior in former Jesuit missionary areas, consistent with this Catholic Order’s focus on human capital and particular religious values. Current inhabitants of former Jesuit missions exhibit a higher Rotter Locus of Control, less cheating, more altruistic behavior and higher positive reciprocity. Clear differences emerge with respect to respondents in former Franciscan missionary areas. The persistent results are consistent with cultural transmission mechanisms of occupational persistence and inter-generational knowledge transmission. Results do not seem driven by religion per se, as evidenced by a religious priming experiment.

This article studies human capital formation, beyond formal education, among the Guarani, in modern-day Paraguay and Argentina. We focus on non-cognitive skills and pro-social behavior by conducting a household survey and performing lab-in-the-field experiments in the areas where Catholic religious missionaries proselytized historically. We find higher non-cognitive skills and pro-social behavior in former Jesuit missionary areas, consistent with this Catholic Order’s focus on human capital and particular religious values. Current inhabitants of former Jesuit missions exhibit a higher Rotter Locus of Control, less cheating, more altruistic behavior and higher positive reciprocity. Clear differences emerge with respect to respondents in former Franciscan missionary areas. The persistent results are consistent with cultural transmission mechanisms of occupational persistence and inter-generational knowledge transmission. Results do not seem driven by religion per se, as evidenced by a religious priming experiment.

2nd half

Sex and the Mission: The Conflicting Effects of Early Christian Investments on the HIV Epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa

Julia Cagé, Valeria Rueda

This article investigates the long-term historical impact of missionary activity on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. On the one hand, missionaries were among the first to invest in modern medicine in a number of countries. On the other hand, Christianity in influenced sexual beliefs and behaviors. We build a new geocoded dataset locating Protestant and Catholic missions in the early 20th century, as well as their health investments. Using a number of different empirical strategies to address selection in missionary locations and into health investments, we show that missionary presence has conflicting effects on HIV today. Regions close to historical mission stations exhibit higher HIV prevalence. This negative impact is robust to multiple specifications accounting for urbanization, and we provide evidence that it is specific to STDs. We show that conversion partly explains the persistent effect of missionary presence, and that a lower knowledge about condom use is...

This article investigates the long-term historical impact of missionary activity on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. On the one hand, missionaries were among the first to invest in modern medicine in a number of countries. On the other hand, Christianity in influenced sexual beliefs and behaviors. We build a new geocoded dataset locating Protestant and Catholic missions in the early 20th century, as well as their health investments. Using a number of different empirical strategies to address selection in missionary locations and into health investments, we show that missionary presence has conflicting effects on HIV today. Regions close to historical mission stations exhibit higher HIV prevalence. This negative impact is robust to multiple specifications accounting for urbanization, and we provide evidence that it is specific to STDs. We show that conversion partly explains the persistent effect of missionary presence, and that a lower knowledge about condom use is a likely channel. On the contrary, among regions historically close to missionary settlements, proximity to a mission with a health investment is associated with lower HIV prevalence nowadays. Safer sexual behaviors around these missions are a possible explanatory channel, as well as the persistence of health infrastructures.

The Protestant Legacy: Missions, Literacy and Economic Development in India

Rossella Calvi, Federico Mantovanelli, Lauren Hoehn Velasco

We investigates the long-run consequences of Protestant missionary activities in colonial India on current literacy rates and gender equality in literacy. Starting from the early years after the Reformation, Protestants have promoted universal literacy to enable individuals to read the bible for themselves. Great efforts were put into advancing female education. Missionary women were often sent directly into the Zenanas (i.e., the women’s quarter of the house) to teach basic literacy and numeracy skills. We combine information about the spatial distribution of Protestant missions and the gender composition of missionaries in early twentieth century India with contemporary district-level and individual-level data. We document a strong long-term link between the historical exposure to Protestant missions and current literacy outcomes. By exploiting only the variation within groups of geographically contiguous districts and using historical Catholic missions as comparison group, we verify that our findings are not driven by unobserved characteristics that may...

We investigates the long-run consequences of Protestant missionary activities in colonial India on current literacy rates and gender equality in literacy. Starting from the early years after the Reformation, Protestants have promoted universal literacy to enable individuals to read the bible for themselves. Great efforts were put into advancing female education. Missionary women were often sent directly into the Zenanas (i.e., the women’s quarter of the house) to teach basic literacy and numeracy skills. We combine information about the spatial distribution of Protestant missions and the gender composition of missionaries in early twentieth century India with contemporary district-level and individual-level data. We document a strong long-term link between the historical exposure to Protestant missions and current literacy outcomes. By exploiting only the variation within groups of geographically contiguous districts and using historical Catholic missions as comparison group, we verify that our findings are not driven by unobserved characteristics that may affect both current literacy outcomes as well as the missionaries’ location decisions.

The Economics of Missionary Expansion: Evidence from Africa and Implications for Development

Remi Jedwab, Felix Meier zu Selhausen, Alexander Moradi

One of the most powerful cultural transformations in Africa’s modern history has been the rapid expansion of Christianity. A recent, yet extensive, literature uses Christian missions established during colonial times as a source of exogenous variation to study the long-term effects of religion, human capital and culture. We argue that the endogeneity of missionary expansion is underestimated, thus questioning the link between missions and economic development. Using panel data on missions in Ghana from 1751 to 1932, we show that: (i) locational decisions were driven by economic factors, as missionaries chose healthier, safer, more accessible, and more developed areas, privileging the “best” locations first; (ii) these factors may spuriously explain why locations with past missions are more developed today, especially since existing studies rely on historical mission atlases that tend to report and thus select the best mission locations. Results are confirmed using data for all of Sub-Saharan Africa.

One of the most powerful cultural transformations in Africa’s modern history has been the rapid expansion of Christianity. A recent, yet extensive, literature uses Christian missions established during colonial times as a source of exogenous variation to study the long-term effects of religion, human capital and culture. We argue that the endogeneity of missionary expansion is underestimated, thus questioning the link between missions and economic development. Using panel data on missions in Ghana from 1751 to 1932, we show that: (i) locational decisions were driven by economic factors, as missionaries chose healthier, safer, more accessible, and more developed areas, privileging the “best” locations first; (ii) these factors may spuriously explain why locations with past missions are more developed today, especially since existing studies rely on historical mission atlases that tend to report and thus select the best mission locations. Results are confirmed using data for all of Sub-Saharan Africa.

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