M1 Memoir report – The Economics of Religion

One of the most common questions among M1 students is “Have you gotten an internship yet?” Most of the students do not seem to consider a dissertation as an equivalent alternative to an internship, but rather as the last back-up plan. At first, I was also fooled by this common perception and kept searching for the internship of my dreams. However, I soon realised it was not what I wanted. I was going to apply for the M2 PPD programme, which would require quite a different skill set from what was needed in the M1 Eco-Stat programme. If I did not feel ready for the M2, how would I manage to be confident in an internship?

Working on a dissertation was a perfect solution for this dilemma – I was not used to reading and writing papers, so I wanted to practice this while deepening my knowledge on some of the topics I might come across next year or later in my career. Obviously, I still needed a research question. A good principle is to only write a dissertation about something that truly appeals to you; otherwise, it is nothing but a waste of time.

One day, I came across a few newspaper articles related to some religious phenomena. “There must be some economic research about this”, I thought and plunged into the endless resources of the Internet. I learned about the field of the Economics of Religion, which aims at studying religions with economic tools and reasoning. I knew this was a field I wanted to learn more about since values, cultures, and religions have always fascinated me. Is it not wonderful how people believe in different things, but in similar ways? I later decided to study some of the factors that might affect religious conversion. Indeed, it is a topical question in today’s world where immigration, the Internet, and social media enhance multiculturalism and shape people’s values and identities all over the world.

Every non-economist I discussed my dissertation with asked me the same question: “How is that economics? There is no money involved!” After all, it seems like the most valuable piece of knowledge is taught from the very first lecture of a Bachelor’s degree: it is not about money, but about opportunity cost. Indeed, a person who decides to change religions is subject to switching costs. Among others, he has to take into account his own values and wellbeing, the required commitments, as well the reactions of his family, friends, and the whole community.

All my economist friends pointed to another problem: “Religions cannot be measured! There cannot be any useful data out there.” I was worried about the same issue, but was surprised by the amount of data on religion that is actually available. Of course, given the restricted freedom of religion, the data is subject to a significant selection bias and false observations.

I am happy I decided to write a dissertation: not only did it allow me to gain self-confidence in many areas, but it also helped me realise some of my weaknesses that I will have to work on for the upcoming academic year. A dissertation might seem like the easy option as you can study a topic you want, work when you want, and take a day off when you want, but it also comes with a lot of responsibility. You alone are responsible for the advancement of your project and the quality of the final report. It may be time to accept the challenge!

by Veera Nissi

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