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Sociology and Anthropology


This article uses a computer-based Schelling-model to examine the aggregate outcomes of individual choices in a religious marketplace. Schelling-models allow one to set parameters for individual behavior, and then see the (chang-ing) social result. The computer simulation described in this article shows how the religious landscape actually changes under various rules for individual re-ligious affiliation and in variously shaped markets. Testing several elements of the model of religious markets developed by R. Stark, R. Finke, W.S. Bainbridge, and L. Iannaccone, the author concludes that the micro-foundations of that model do not produce the macro-level re-sults claimed for it. Specifically, in a religious market based on individual choice: 1) religious market dominance does not depend on state intervention, but on the relative attractiveness (or proselytizing effort) of large religions, small religions, and having no religion; 2) religious competition per se does not increase overall religious participation, which is more highly affected both by the relative attractiveness of different options and by the percentage of the population that is religious at the start of the simulation; 3) several tipping points occur, at which a small change in a single parameter will generate a massive change in results. Although the simulation does not provide an empirical test of Stark et al’s approach, it does throw doubt on the approach’s claim to ground its predictions about the shape of the religious landscape on individual religious choices.

Document Type


Book Title

Religion in Late Modernity: Essays in Honor of Pål Repstad


Inger Furseth; Paul Leer-Salveson


Tapir Academic Press,

Place of Publication

Trondheim, Norway

Publication Date





sociology of religion, market model, rational choice, simulation


Sociology | Sociology of Religion


Simulation software is available from the author.

Simulating Sects: A Computer Simulation of the Stark-Finke-Bainbridge-Iannaccone Theory of Religious Markets