For more than a decade, sociologists of religion have been debating the answer to a basic question: What is the relationship between religious pluralism and religious vitality? The old wisdom was that the relationship was negative, that pluralism undermines vitality. This view has been challenged by advocates of a supply-side model of religious vitality. They argue that the relationship is positive—that pluralism increases vitality—and this empirical claim has become foundational to the larger project of applying economic theory to religion. We review the relevant evidence and reach a straightforward conclusion: The empirical evidence does not support the claim that religious pluralism is positively associated with religious participation in any general sense. We discuss this conclusion's theoretical implications, and we identify potentially productive directions for future research on religious pluralism, church-state relations, and religious competition.

It appears that North Americans are religious in spite of, not because of, religious pluralism. (Olson 1998a:761).

[R]eligious practice is strongly and positively associated with pluralism. (Finke & Stark 1998:762)


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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