Ideology and the Market Metaphor in Rational Choice Theory of Religion: A Rhetorical Critique of “Religious Economies”

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Despite the many criticisms of the empirical and theoretical adequacy of Rational Choice theory, it continues to have considerable influence and appeal in the sociological study of religion. This paper examines the use of the market metaphor and its subsidiary metaphors, with a view to understanding how these metaphors work in rational choice theory, and what this might be able to tell us about its enduring influence. I suggest that the metaphor is a useful one for studying religion in a capitalist, commodity oriented society, but when we forget that the “religious economy” is a metaphor, it comes to serve ideological purposes well suited to the neo-liberal agenda. The market (conceived after a neo-conservative fashion) is thereby naturalised and serves to reinforce the ideology of a one-dimensional society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-543
Number of pages15
JournalCritical Sociology
Issue number4
Early online date2 May 2012
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013



  • rational choice theory
  • ideology
  • metaphor
  • sociology of religion
  • neo-liberalism
  • rhetoric
  • Rodney Stark

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