The Role of Missionaries in Social and Institutional Change

28 February 2008 at 5:10 pm 6 comments

| Peter Klein |

First Brayden, then Fabio. Today another talented young sociologist, Robert Woodberry of UT-Austin, gave a research workshop in my building. Bob is leading a massive project to construct a comprehensive dataset of all Protestant and Catholic missionary activity from 1813 to 1968. Some of the data are here. Bob presented a working paper (not yet online) on the affect of missionary activity on the spread of democracy in the global south. Once Protestant missionary activity (missionaries per capita, length of time in host country, percent of local population evangelized) is controlled for, the usual predictors of democracy (British colonial origin, location, economic variables) drop out of regression models as statistically significant. One implication is that studies on the effect of religion on economic performance (e.g., Stulz and Williamson 2003) should control more carefully for the precise charactersitics of religious activity (not simply “Protestant,” “Catholic,” etc.).

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Institutions, New Institutional Economics.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alison Kemper  |  29 February 2008 at 11:22 pm

    Avner Greif showed that a particular religious community contains specific economic institutions that work differently from other religious communities. Sectarian effects are profound.

    On a different note, David Baron has a working paper which models morally motivated self regulation. He makes very fine distinctions about types of altruism. It sounds nearly theological.

  • 2. Peter Klein  |  1 March 2008 at 12:30 pm

    Yes, this is very different work than Greif’s, however. While Greif focuses on relationships within the religious community (i.e., the development of trust that facilitated long-distance trade), Woodberry’s project deals with the effects of religious (missionary) activity outside the group, i.e., the role that missionaries played in fostering social change in their host countries. The role of the missionaries in the abolition of slavery is particularly interesting. In Africa and the Caribbean the missionaries were typically the only Europeans, besides the slave-masters themselves, with any direct knowledge of local conditions and it was their reports back home, sometimes delivered in person after they were expelled from the host countries by colonial administrators, that fostered anti-slavery sentiment, particularly in Britain.

  • 3. Alison Kemper  |  1 March 2008 at 9:30 pm

    I wonder if we can look forward to Woodberry working on something with Nathan Nunn one day? Wouldn’t that be fun!

  • 4. Tiennota.Beiatara  |  18 May 2009 at 9:55 pm

    I wonder if these two, Woodberry and Greif work together to make a more detailed information

  • 5. Steve  |  1 March 2011 at 10:07 am

    Nunn uses Woodberry’s data here:

    Also, Peter, the links where you direct us to where Bob’s data are dead. Can you send them?

  • 6. Peter Klein  |  1 March 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Thanks Steve. The project appears to have moved here:

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