Sociation Today® 
The Official Journal
The North Carolina
Sociological Association: A 
Refereed Web-Based 
ISSN 1542-6300
Editorial Board:

George H. Conklin,
 North Carolina
 Central University

Richard Dixon,

Chien Ju Huang,
 North Carolina
 Central University

Ken Land,
 Duke University

Miles Simpson,
 North Carolina
 Central University

Ron Wimberley,
 N.C. State University

Robert Wortham,
 North Carolina
 Central University

Volume 2, Number 1
Spring 2004

Religious Choices and Preferences:
North Carolina's Baskin Robbins Effect?


Robert A. Wortham
North Carolina Central University

    The cultural homogeneity – heterogeneity contrast is well known to sociologists as urban and rural environments are often distinguished in this manner.  Sociologists of religion are currently wrestling with the homogeneity – heterogeneity distinction as they try to evaluate whether or not monopoly or competitive markets stimulate religious involvement.  Two distinct paradigms have emerged.

    Representatives of the older paradigm, Durkheim (1995 [1912]) and Roof (1978), maintain that religious homogeneity enhances social stability and religious involvement while religious pluralism is disruptive and weakens religious participation.  Durkheim (1995 [1912]) argued that a common religion would strengthen social ties and legitimate a common set of norms thus enhancing stability and strengthening the moral order.  In a similar vein, Roof (1978) proposed that religious involvement would be stronger in rural (local) environments as rural areas are characterized by a higher degree of religious homogeneity.  Monopoly rather than competitive forces stimulate religious involvement.

    Conversely, Stark and Finke (2002; 2000), proponents of the newer paradigm, argue that pluralistic or competitive environments are better able to enhance religious participation.  Monopolistic environments restrict choices and create a surplus of unmet demand; whereas, deregulated markets become more culturally diverse and competitive over time (Warner 2002).  Rather than disrupting community stability by offering too many choices, a competitive free-market provides more opportunities to satisfy specific religious tastes.  It is similar to going out for ice cream and finding that the store offers only three flavors.  The customer will probably leave if she or he does not particularly want one of the three available flavors.  The owner stands a better chance of staying in business if more flavors are offered.  Thus, what are some of the characteristics of these competitive religious environments?

Religious Economies

   The religious economy is one of the fundamental concepts associated with the new paradigm.  The religious economy is comprised of the set of competing firms within a given geographic landscape (Stark 2004).  Stark and Finke (2002; 2000) maintain that religious economies provide niches that satisfy consumer demand for religious products.  To the extent that the religious market place is deregulated, the cost of and barriers to participation will be low.  This enables religious suppliers to provide a more comprehensive array of services.  New products will continue to be offered until the religious market is sufficiently penetrated and reaches a saturation point.  Individual religious suppliers are unable to monopolize the market unless the coercive power of the state is evoked.

    The current (2000) North Carolina religious economy provides an interesting opportunity to test claims of the common religious environment and the competitive market supporters.  Southern Baptists have maintained a strong presence throughout the twentieth century, but in recent years the state has experienced a significant amount of growth through migration.  Increasingly, people are moving into the state from areas where Southern Baptists have not been strong.  How is this impacting the North Carolina religious economy?  Is the Southern Baptist monopoly eroding, and is the market becoming more pluralistic?  If this is the case, market deregulation should stimulate religious involvement.

The Current North Carolina Religious Economy

    The key players in the 2000 North Carolina religious economy may be determined by looking at the 2000 Glenmary data (Jones and others 2002).  The North Carolina religious market place is characterized by a degree of religious pluralism, as information is available for 86 different religious groups.  It also appears that roughly 45 % of the population claims some type of tie to a religious organization.  The 2000 report is the first to include county-level data on Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jain and Sikh communities.  Thus, the current North Carolina religious economy transcends the traditional Protestant – Catholic – Jewish borders.  In fact, the Muslim community (29 mosques; 20,137 adherents) is almost as large as the Jewish community (34 synagogues; 25,545 adherents).  The African American adherence rate is understated as none of the historic Black Church denominations provided data for this edition of the Glenmary data.  Figures for the African Methodist Episcopal Zion church and an estimate for Black Baptists were included in the 1990 data (Bradley and others 1992).  At that point 4.7 % and 7.0 % of the total population were affiliated with these groups.  Thus, the 2000 total religious adherence rate may be closer to 57 %.  (The 1990 total religious adherence rate was 60 %.)  Religious groups whose total number of reported adherents is equal to one or more percent of the state’s total population are presented in Table 1.

Table 1.  North Carolina Religious Economy:  2000

Religious              Number of       Number of    Adherence 
  Group              Religious Units   Adherents      Rate(%)

Southern Baptists        3,717         1,512,058       18.8
United Methodists        1,964           638,785        7.9
Catholic                   180           315,606        3.9
Presbyterian U.S.A         738           203,647        2.5
Evalgelical Lutheran
  Church in America        237            88,037        1.0
Church of God (Cleveland)  465            81,037        1.0

Source:  Glenmary (2000)

    Southern Baptists come close to being an example of a monopoly faith.  Almost one in five North Carolinians is a Southern Baptist.  On the other hand, approximately 8 % of the total population is United Methodist and another 4 % is Catholic.  Virtually four out of five persons identifying a religious affiliation are associated with one of the seven largest religious groups.  Also, since one in ten North Carolinians is affiliated with one of the remaining 79 different religious groups, the North Carolina religious economy is sufficiently deregulated.  The Southern Baptist presence is significant, but the North Carolina religious market place has been deregulated.  So is North Carolina's religious adherence rate primarily the product of monopolistic or competitive market forces?

Explaining the North Carolina
Religious Adherence Rate 

    County-level measures for religious adherence, Southern Baptist primacy and religious pluralism were constructed from the 2000 Glenmary data.  The religious adherence rate is the percent of the county’s total population that is affiliated with a religious group for which data have been provided.  Southern Baptist primacy represents the percent of the county’s total population that is affiliated with a Southern Baptist congregation.  The religious pluralism measure reflects the total the number of different religious groups present within any given county.  The findings of the regression analysis are portrayed in Table 2.

                           Table 2
     Regression of Study Variables on Religious Adherence

Study       Unstand-   Standard-    Standard     T    Probability 
Variable     ized B    ized Beta     Error

Primacy       .358       .559         .066     5.465     .000
Pluralism     .432       .432         .102     4.224     .000
Constant    18.407        ---        4.782     3.849     .000

RSquare = .252
Source:  Glenmary, 2000

    The findings are somewhat surprising.  Religious pluralism does stimulate religious involvement (Beta = .432; p = .000), but slightly stronger support (Beta = .559; p = .000) is provided for Durkheim’s notion of the common religion.  It appears that the North Carolina religious adherence rate is the product of the strong presence of a particular religious group and a deregulated market.  Monopolistic and competitive forces stimulate religious adherence.  How can this be?

The Baskin Robbins Effect

    Stark (2001) maintains that religious pluralism will be tolerated within a monopoly environment as long as the competing religious groups are not perceived as threatening the monopoly’s control of the religious market place.  While 18.8 % of North Carolinians were identified as Southern Baptist in 2000, this level of identification has been rather stable since 1980.  Approximately 23 % of the total population was identified as Southern Baptist in 1980 (Quinn and others 1982) while roughly 22 % of the total population was still identified as Southern Baptist in 1990 (Bradley 1992).  It seems as if the market shares of the competing religious communities have been diffused to the point that no single religious group is perceived as posing a significant threat to the Southern Baptists’ control of the religious market.  Additional religious groups will be permitted to satisfy unmet religious demand as long as the Southern Baptist control of the market remains stable.  Consequently, in North Carolina, monopolistic and competitive forces can stimulate the same religious market.  North Carolinians still primarily consume chocolate ice cream (Southern Baptists), but they are quite willing to sample other flavors.


Bradley, Martin B., Norman M. Green, Jr., Dale E. Jones, Mac Lynn and Lou McNeil.  (1992).  Churches and Church Membership in the United States 1990.  Atlanta:  Glenmary Research Center.

Durkheim, Emile.  (1995 [1912]).  The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, translation and introduction by K. Fields.  New York:  The Free Press.

Jones, Dale E., Sherri Doty, Clifford Grammich, James E. Horsch, Richard Houseal, Mac Lynn, John P. Marcum, Kenneth Sanchagrin and Richard H. Taylor.  (2002).  Religious Congregations & Membership in the United States:  2000.  Nashville:  Glenmary Research Center.

Quinn, Bernard, Herman Anderson, Martin Bradley, Paul Goetting and Peggy Shriver.  (1982).  Churches and Church Membership in the United States 1980.  Atlanta:  Glenmary Research Center.

Roof, Wade Clark.  (1978).  Community and Commitment:  Religious Diversity in a Liberal Protestant Church.  New York:  Elsevier.

Stark, Rodney.  (2001).  One True God:  Historical Consequences of Monotheism.  Princeton:  Princeton University Press.

------ .  (2004).  Sociology, Ninth Edition.  Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Stark, Rodney and Roger Finke.  (2000).  Acts of Faith:  Exploring the Human Side of Religion.  Berkeley:  University of California Press.

------ .  (2002).  “Beyond Church and Sect:  Dynamics and Stability in Religious Economies.”  In Sacred Markets, Sacred Canopies:  Essays on Religious Markets and Religious Pluralism, edited by Ted Jelen, 31-62.  Lanham, MD:  Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Warner, R. Stephen.  (2002).  “More Progress on the New Paradigm.”  In Sacred Markets, Sacred Canopies:  Essays on Religious Markets and Religious Pluralism, edited by Ted Jelen, 1-29.  Lanham, MD:  Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

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