August, 2004

The Market for Martyrs

  • Laurence Iannaccone

    Director, Institute for the Study of Religion, Economics, and Society, Chapman University
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Despite its presence within all religious traditions, extreme self- sacrifice is by no means easy to explain. We rightly view most people who seek pain or death as mentally ill. Yet studies refute the seemingly obvious conclusion that religious self-sacrifice is likewise rooted in depression, obsession, or other forms of irrationality. In this working paper, Dr. Iannaccone shows how economic theory suggests ways in which many forms of sacrifice (such as restrictive diet, dress, and sexual conduct) can help groups produce collective goods and services otherwise lost to freeriding, but self-sacrifice aimed at injuring others has yet to be adequately explained.