The formal rules of organised religion: a framework for empirical research

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The ideal length of formal rules has been studied as a core preoccupation of firms and states. Shorter rules are the typical firm’s response to performance pressures concerning efficiency; longer rules are the typical polity’s solution to questions of political control and order. We know very little in this respect about the rules of an institution that has been longer-lived and more influential than most firms and states: organised religion. Are the drafters of church rules more sensitive to performance pressures, to political considerations or to both? The article brings together theories of constitutional politics, church and state, bureaucracy and economic competition to develop explanations of length variation in the core rules of churches. An empirical exploration proposes ways to test these expectations and produces relevant preliminary evidence. This new direction in the study of institutional religion can update our understanding of churches as complex institutions that lie somewhere between the ideal-typical firm and the ideal-typical polity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)491-512
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Contemporary Religion
Issue number3
Early online date9 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - 16 Nov 2023


  • church governance
  • statutes
  • bureaucracy
  • constitutions


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