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Is Religion a Hindrance Towards the Development of Societies?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1934 words Published: 23rd Aug 2021

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As difficult as it can get to define religion, it gets even harder to explain its parameters. There has not been a general consensus on the definition of religion although social scientists have long tried to provide clarity to the definition of religion as it fits best to justify their work. Belief is at the core of Religion (Jeff Haynes, 1997). According to Jeff, Bellah termed religion as, “a set of symbolic forms and acts which relate man [sic] to the ultimate conditions of his existence”. Jeff interprets these ultimate conditions of existence in two ways, in material and spiritual sense. I will be modifying the material sense of conditions as those pertaining to the political, social and economic factors defining the sophistication of modern world. Empirical and theoretical researchers have long stressed on only the instrumental factors affecting the development of society. It is important to understand that these instrumental factors are insufficient to reflect true results without the inclusion of qualitative factors such as religion. The effect of religion on the economic development of an economy cannot be fairly established without defining economic development. This concept has been a popular one among the economic and social scientists throughout the history of economics. However, the inclusion of terms to define this concept has varied. The concept of economic development lies beyond the conventional boundaries. It is not just a mere calculation of income levels per person in an economy. As noted by Amartya Sen in his book Development as Freedom, “it is not simply adequate to take the maximization of income or wealth as our basic objective. Rather than quantifying economic development as a function of wealth or income it should be more focused with its relevance in enhancing the lives being lead and the freedoms being enjoyed”.

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The concept of economic development is far younger than that of religion. Religion and prosperity have often been seen essential to exist side by side. The presence of one has serious implications on the other. The inclusion of religion in economics was first introduced by Adam Smith, who is also known as the Economist of Religion. He viewed religion from a public finance perspective. Adam Smith argues about the idea of increased competitiveness under the presence of different religious institutions in an economy. His approach towards religion and its role in economics was rather a neglected one but he raised some broader questions that have been centre of research by many contemporary economists. These questions pertain to whether competitive religions or established (state) monopoly churches or both are a fundamental requirement in achieving “optimality” in religious markets. Many economists have worked on making a statement about Adam Smith’s stance on religion in economics. Gary Anderson (1988) extended the argument to the farthest reach. According to him, Smith argues in favor of free-market anarchism stronger than in any of his works. Adam Smith regarded the notion of moral sense as tied with the concept of self-love, altruism and the right to interact with others on a contractual basis.

It was Max Weber who dealt with the impact of religion on economic forces by stressing the effect of religion on economy through its direct influence on the individual traits of the economic agents. According to Weber, religion affected individuals by making them more or less productive hence indirectly effecting the operation of an economy. Robert Barro and Rachel McCleary were the ones who found religion to have a positive effect on economic development. The parameters defining development were cooperation, government, working women, legal rules, thriftiness and per capita income levels. The effects of religion differ between and across religious denominations, but overall, their studies found that Christianity based on the attendance level in churches and belief in life after death is associated positively with attitudes conducive to economic growth. However, there have been economists like John L. Perkins who have criticized the existence of religion as a sole determinant of economic retardation in the developing country. He is one of the few contemporary western economists that have tried capturing the effects of religion particularly Islam on the socio-economic evolution of a society. However, there has not been much work done on Pakistan and its development in the context of religion.

Thesis Statement

The main hypothesis is to find if the economic failure of Pakistan is self inflicted or caused by political and socio economic forces beyond control. Is it the growing religious fanaticism that is hindering the growth and development of Pakistani society as projected by the world nowadays?

Approach and Development

The paper addresses some crucial questions that need to be answered in the wake of the past decade’s events. There is a growing dissent towards the role of Pakistan in the modern world. The concerns are not only raised by international community but also by the moderate citizens within the country. The cries to bring about a change have been raised by people who are being victimized by the internal situation of the country, majority of them being women, minorities and the educated middle class. The paper intends to focus on addressing a vital question. Can religion play a role in the retardation of the economic development or wellbeing of the society? How have the so called Islamic laws such as Hudood Ordinance left a devastating impact on women and minorities? What is the future of Pakistan in terms of its economy and the level of prosperity? Is it time to review the extent of religious interference with the matters of the government? These questions will be addressed by conducting a research and analyzing the influence of religion on economic progress and development. Religion and economic development will both be defined in terms of certain factors based on the amended definitions presented in the early part of the proposal.

The paper will focus on religiosity as an empirical determinant of economic development in Pakistan. Robert R. Barro and Rachel M. McCleary in their working paper, “Religion and Economic growth” captured the effect of religion by considering the effect of church attendance and religious beliefs. This paper will provide as a starting point for this research paper. The empirical model used in their paper can be amended and adopted to cater to the needs of a developing country, in this case Pakistan. However it is important to note that the motive here is not to capture the effect of the typical dictionary term ‘religion’ on economic development of a society. The events happening around us do not require an answer to this question anymore. It is the extent of the adoption of religion resulting in religious extremism that requires the attention of economists. The data used by Barro in his paper has a few drawbacks when modified for the case of Pakistan. As the approach to assessing the possible effects of Islam on the economic growth of Pakistan has to cater for the changes in the way religion is defined nowadays, the two fundamental variables used in his work are not applicable here any more. The inclusion of attendance to church (mosques in this case) does not signify anything about the evident ‘extremism’ in the country. It is therefore important to base the research on the right questions. These sample questions are compiled from a variety of questions pooled in for ‘The measurement of Family Religiosity and Spirituality’ for Indicators for Child, Family and Community Connections. These will help answer the vital questions presented earlier. Variables that can define religiosity in Pakistan better can possibly include like:

Religious school enrollment in Pakistan. These schools are the madrassahs that focus on the religion as mode of teaching. There is a clear distinction between private and public schools which follow a regular curriculum with the inclusion of knowledge of religion only.

Level of religious communication at home. This includes the frequency with which religion is preached at home.

The nature of religious beliefs. This focuses on distinguishing if the person is just spiritual and not religious.

Desire, willingness or involvement in religious training camps and activities.

Similarity in religious beliefs to one’s parents and partner. How comfortable does the person feel to be around people sharing strong beliefs?

Religion through media. To what extent are people trying to explore more of their religion through the use of different religious web-sites, chat rooms and religious programming on television?

The willingness to find opportunities to learn more about religion.

The willingness towards women achieving higher education.

The level of tolerance towards a secular state rather than a religious monopoly. Does the person view complete Shariah rule as a necessary step.

The paper will use survey data based on questions designed to capture the level of extremism prevailing in the society. Individual data will be collected for the survey applying to 1000-2000 respondents. The survey data will be used to form country-wide average of data which will be based on questions pertaining to the data compiled for Pakistan. The result of this research would help in highlighting the partial correlation between measures of religiosity and indicators of economic development. These indicators might be the women representation in the country, GDP per capita, percentage of people living under poverty line, capital and investment inflow, freedom to minorities, literacy rate and level of migration etc.

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In compiling research data it has to be kept in mind that there are certain problems associated with the empirical data of this nature. A main limitation of this research is the possible reversibility of the causation effect of the data. This pertains to the problem of determining if economic growth is affected by increased religiosity or is this extremism an outcome of vicious economic traps faced by developing economies. Another limitation is the inability of economic development to take into account just the economic factors. Religion influences the development of not only the economic forces but also has serious political and social implications. Similarly there are other determinants such as culture that are closely linked with religion in countries with strong historical background. These determinants tend to create a bias towards the findings of how religiosity can influence development. This problem has to be dealt with very carefully when analyzing empirical work.

Implications of Research

The area of religion and economic development is a very sensitive and dangerous one to handle. It has been analyzed for years by social scientists but there has not been much done on Islam and its effect on Pakistan over the decade when it was much needed. There is a need for new set of parameters defining religion as there is a fine line between spirituality and religious extremism which has to be revealed in order to understand the mechanisms of a developing country with religious monopoly. This study will help overcome this gap and will assist in finding answers about the future of Pakistan and its role in the modern world.


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