A supply-side economics view of religion — adopting the unusual strategy of treating religion in Australia like any market — would disprove the misconception that faith is in decline.
In A shy hope in the mind: secularisation and the diversity of Australia’s religious economy, CIS Senior Research Fellow Peter Kurti argues that a ‘supply-side’ analysis of the Australian religious market — and the behaviour of religious ‘consumers’ — may well show a more vibrant and robust picture of religious life in Australia than we are led to expect.
“In this approach, religious believers are considered as consumers who make rational, informed choices about how to participate in religion and which religious ‘product’ they will opt for,” Mr Kurti says.
“The religious organisations — or ‘suppliers’ — are there to serve the market and meet consumer demand. Thinking this way, Australia’s religious market looks much healthier than the more common story of simple decline.”
Mr Kurti says that far from diminishing in importance, religion has always been — and continues to be — a major part of our society.
“And because of its significance, defending religious freedom is more important than ever,” he says.
“Religious freedom is one major issue Malcolm Turnbull’s government has yet to resolve. While waiting for the release of the report handed down by the Ruddock inquiry, commentators are speculating about its likely recommendations – and what the government will do about them.
“Of course, critics of religion say it’s all a fuss about nothing. Religion is in decline, they say, thanks to the secularisation brought about by economic and technological progress. Religious believers can believe what they like as long as keep it to themselves. But the secularisation thesis might be wrong.”
The data shows that levels of religion in Australia are growing – 70% of us claim a religious affiliation. The fastest-growing religious group are Sikhs who have grown by 74% since 2011.
“The 2016 census showed religion in Australia to be more complex and diverse than critics allow,” Mr Kurti says.
“That’s because the greater the competition between religious suppliers, the higher the levels of religious ‘consumption’ as suppliers ditch unpopular ‘products’ in favour of those that have greater appeal. And the healthier the religious market, the more ‘religious’ a society is likely to be.
“The so-called ‘secularisation thesis’ holds that as society modernises, the more quickly religion and the religious world view will fade away.
“But a supply-side analysis of religion indicates that the secularisation thesis is almost certainly incorrect.”
Peter Kurti is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies.