Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version

Historically, religions have derived a substantial amount of their financial revenue through some arrangement with the political system in which they function (now generally termed the state ). This has taken place through direct grants or through a tax either collected or enforced by the state with proceeds passed to religious leaders (although in most of these settings, there was also a tradition of religious begging on the part of individual religious virtuosi).

Since the American Revolution, however, the principle of the separation of church and state has resulted in a decrease of state-supported religious establishments and an increase in the dependence of religions on voluntary contributions . In various Anglo-American traditions, these are known as tithes, pledges, dues , or offerings , while the process of fund-raising may be placed into a larger context as stewardship . Regardless of the term, the nature of the voluntary contributory system means that religious organizations are dependent upon their members for the organization's ongoing maintenance. Either direct contributions or endowments provide the primary material resources for all organized religion in the United States.

Social scientists recently have become interested in the processes that lead people to contribute and that build successful contributory systems for religious institutions. Paramount in this research is Dean Hoge et al.s' Money Matters: Personal Giving in American Churches (Westminster 1996) and an issue of the Review of Religious Research guest edited by Hoge, "Patterns of Financial Contributions to Churches" (Vol. 36, No. 2, Dec. 1994).

William H. Swatos, Jr .

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