Strategic Behavior and Organizational Structure in Religions

Donald Wittman
2013 British Journal of Political Science  
Religions are organized in a variety of ways. They may resemble an elected autocracy, a parliamentary democracy, or something akin to a monarchy, where heredity plays a primary role. This variation allows for a comparative study of their organization. I consider strategic behavior in the fight for control over church doctrine and finance. This behavior depends upon the organizational structure of the church. I show how different rules regarding appointment and length of service influence a
more » ... ce influence a variety of practices, including the age of appointment to the leadership position. I am thus able to explain what otherwise would be very puzzling differences in the age of appointment across religions and within a particular religion, overtime. In a nutshell, this paper is about politics and strategic behavior in the large (democracy versus autocracy) within the context of the small (religious institutions). JEL CODES: D02, D72, Z12 * I would like to thank Doug Allen for very many helpful suggestions. APPENDICES NEED NOT BE PART OF PUBLISHED VERSION STRATEGIC BEHAVIOR AND ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE OF RELIGIONS Religions vary in how they structure political power. They may resemble an elected autocracy, a parliamentary democracy, or something akin to a monarchy, where heredity plays a primary role. These differing power arrangements call for different types of strategic behavior in the fight for control over church doctrine and finance. I show where screening is highly institutionalized and when the age of a person may be an important strategic factor in choosing a leader. For example, to tame the power of the elected-for-life autocrat vis-à-vis the electoral body, the electoral body will choose someone old so that the leader will not have enough time to amass even greater power. In contrast, when the leader chooses his successor, the leader would like to have influence long after he is gone. This is best accomplished by anointing a young person as leader. The paper thus helps to explain what otherwise might be very puzzling differences in the age of appointment to the leadership position across religions. For example, the average age of appointment to prophet in the Church of Christ of the Latter Day Saints is nearly 73, appointment to pope of the Roman Catholic Church is nearly 65, appointment to Archbishop of Canterbury (Anglican Church) is 59, appointment to head of the Lutheran Missouri Synod is 52, and appointment to Rebbe of Chabad Lubavitch was just under 40 years old. The paper not only explains across church differences, but changes within a church over time. For example, the theory predicts the dramatic shift in average age from 70 to 59 of the President of the Episcopal Church after 1926. Although most of the paper treats the institutional structure for choosing leaders as a given, I also discuss when and where this structure is most subject to change. There is a large body of social science research on religion, but, for the most part, the focus and/or methodology is only distantly related. Weber, who elsewhere discussed the nature of bureaucracies, showed little interest in the internal structure of religions in The Sociology of Religion. Historians have written numerous books about the struggle for power within a particular religion. For example, see Penton, 1985 , Reese, 1996 , and Baumgartner, 2003 their methodology is considerably different from that employed here as they did not undertake a quantitative study over time and across denominations. Economists have devoted considerable attention to the internal structure of firms. The classic paper by Jensen and Meckling (1976) considers agency costs under different ownership structures. This paper considers agency costs in a different context (religion) with different means of control. Nearer in subject matter, but still concerned with different issues is work by Zech (2001) , who shows why the agency problem for pastors tends to be resolved via promotion tournaments. Closer still is work by Allen (1995) and Mao and Zech (2002). They show how doctrinal concerns put limits on the organizational form of the religion. Thus Roman Catholic doctrine implies a more hierarchical arrangement than Baptist doctrine. This paper takes a further step. It asks how structure (for example, whether the leader is elected for life or not) influences the degree of screening and the age of the leader. The field of political science has numerous works on democratic elections (see Downs, 1956, for the classic work in the field), dictatorships (Wintrobe, 1998) and forms of governance in between. Parliamentary democracy and autocracy roughly correspond to the organization of the Episcopal Church and the Catholic Church, respectively. But the focus of this political science literature is considerably different, concentrating on policy outcomes and coalition formation rather than on age. Nevertheless, I do employ a voting model to characterize church elections, and I will cover the related research when I introduce the formal model. Because I consider the issue of succession, previous work on the role of succession in autarchy is of relevance. The classic work on this subject is by Tullock (1987) . Because he considers autocracies where power usurps formal rule (e.g., the Soviet Union, particularly in its earlier years), he asks different questions and provides more speculative answers than the present study, which treats the formal rules as being operative. Perhaps the closest work is by Giuriato (2009) in her study of the Catholic Church, which she views as an elected autocracy. But there the overlap ends and like all the other studies does not deal with age.
doi:10.1017/s0007123413000161 fatcat:o53qmvre7bctlorzae4ytzbdpy