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
) and Roof (1978), maintain that religious homogeneity enhances social
stability and religious involvement while religious pluralism is disruptive
and weakens religious participation. Durkheim (1995 ) 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?
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
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
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
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
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.
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Lou McNeil. (1992). Churches and Church Membership in the
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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
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Quinn, Bernard, Herman Anderson, Martin Bradley, Paul Goetting and Peggy
Shriver. (1982). Churches and Church Membership in the United
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Roof, Wade Clark. (1978). Community and Commitment:
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Exploring the Human Side of Religion. Berkeley: University
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------ . (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
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.
Return to Sociation Today Spring 2004
©2004 North Carolina Sociological Association