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Study Reveals Focused Competition Among Similar Religious Groups

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A recent study delves into the dynamics of competition among religious congregations in Manhattan, revealing intriguing patterns in their advertising strategies over a half-century from 1949 to 1999. This research challenges prevailing theories on how religious organisations interact and compete, offering fresh insights into the sociology of religion. The findings were published in the journal American Sociological Review.

The study’s methodology involved an extensive compilation of data from various sources, including yellow pages, official websites, and US Census data. By conducting event-history analyses, Homan was able to assess the advertising behaviour of different congregations in response to their competitive environment.

One of the key findings of the study is the inverse relationship between a congregation’s likelihood to advertise and the presence of nearby congregations with differing theological beliefs. This suggests that congregations are less inclined to invest in advertising when surrounded by religious groups that do not share their theological orientation. In contrast, an increase in nearby congregations with similar beliefs over time correlated with a higher likelihood of a congregation choosing to advertise. This finding implies a more direct competition among congregations with similar theological orientations, countering the broader competition hypothesis often suggested in religious-economies theory (RET).

The study also offers a nuanced view of the nature of competition in the religious sphere. Unlike previous assumptions of broad-based competition across different religious traditions, Homan’s research indicates that competition is more intense within specific religious traditions. This insight challenges some aspects of RET, particularly its stance on the scope of competition among religious organisations.

Furthermore, the study’s focus on the local level, specifically among individual congregations in Manhattan, adds a significant dimension to the understanding of religious competition. This localised approach provides a more relevant and detailed picture of religious dynamics, as opposed to previous studies that have often looked at broader denominational or national levels.

This research contributes significantly to the sociology of religion by offering a more detailed understanding of how religious congregations compete and adapt in an urban environment. It underscores the importance of theological similarity in shaping competitive strategies among religious groups. This has broader implications for understanding how social units, in general, compete and adapt in a shared space.

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