Abstract

A new paradigm in the sociology of religion offers a compelling perspective on processes of religious affiliation. Drawing on rational choice theory, this paradigm views religion as a marketplace consisting of freely choosing individuals and competitive organizations. Religious affiliation is an instance of cultural consumption, guided by preferences that inform the actor's calculation of the relative costs and benefits of various cultural choices. In this article we examine the development of religious preferences that inform choices about religious mobility. Since cultural consumption is both individual and social in nature, we move beyond the rather narrow focus on socioeconomic factors and integrate family and organizational variables, hitherto treated as competing explanations of religious mobility, into an overall theory of religious mobility. Further, we move beyond the assumption of religious voluntarism, which underlies the new paradigm in the sociology of religion, to examine how religious choices are subject to constraints imposed on individuals.

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Data were made available through the Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research. Portions of this article were previously presented at the annual meetings of the American Sociological Association, the Southern Sociological Society, and the Public Choice Society. Research was assisted by a grant to the first author from the Vanderbilt University Research Council We thank Mark Chaves, Christopher G. Ellison, Roger Finke, Douglas D. Heckathorn, Laurence R. Iannaccone, Barry Kosmin, Daniel H. Krymkowski, Gerald Maxwell, Richard A. Peterson, Rodney Stark, Robert A. Wortham, ten anonymous reviewers from American Sociological Review, and two anonymous Social Forces reviewers for comments on earlier versions of the paper, although none are responsible for any deficiencies in the final product.