Does disestablishment lead to religious vitality? The case of Switzerland.
Economists and sociologists of religion have claimed that religious establishment dampens religious vitality, leading to lower recruitment efforts, low attendance, declining membership within established congregations, and the 'crowding out' of non-established congregations. Conversely, these authors have told us, disestablishment will lead to more religious vitality. Remarkably, even though these claims rest on the connection between establishment and the organizational and membership behaviour of local religious congregations, no research has directly examined that connection. We use the 2008 Swiss National Congregations Study as well as historical data to assess the effect of different levels of religious establishment on both established and non-established congregations. We find that established congregations do indeed show less religious vitality than non-established congregations. Contrary to the claims of the economic literature, however, these covariations are not caused by differences in religious establishment on the cantonal level. Both our quantitative and historical analyses show that disestablishment has not led to religious vitality for either established or non-established congregations. The only clear effect of disestablishment is a dramatic decrease of income for established congregations. Based on quantitative and historical evidence, we suggest that differences between established and non-established congregations are produced by differences in religious tradition and immigration flows, not by differences in levels of establishment.
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