Rituals or Good Works: Social Signalling in Religious Organizations

Gilat Levy (London School of Economics)

March 27, 2012, 11:00–12:30


Room Amphi S

Economic Theory Seminar


We develop a model of social signalling of cooperative behaviour in religious organisations. The model embeds a ritual-based religious organization in which signalling arises through the use of costly rituals, and a discipline-based religious organization in which such signalling occurs through the monitoring of past behaviour. We use this framework to contrast -positively and normatively- these two forms of social signalling. We show that ritual-based religions, while using a costly and wasteful signal, also imply a higher level of coordination of behaviour in social interactions and a higher incidence of mutual cooperation. Our welfare analysis suggests that communities are more likely to support a switch to a discipline-based religion if strategic complementarities are high and if there is su¢ ciently high level of public information about social behaviour. This accords with the success of Calvin’s Reformation in Switzerland and France, a process characterized by the reduction of rituals along with the creation of institutions to monitor and publicise individuals’ behaviour, such as the Consistory. 1


Gilat Levy (London School of Economics), Rituals or Good Works: Social Signalling in Religious Organizations, Economic Theory Seminar, Toulouse: TSE, March 27, 2012, 11:00–12:30, room Amphi S.