The Origins of Religious Stratification in Colonial America
Religious stratification occurs when religion is institutionalized in the laws and/or customs of society as a criterion for the allocation of social positions and their attendant rewards. The result is a relatively stable ranking of religious groups in terms of their access to power, privilege, and prestige. In this article, we examine the social processes that contributed to the emergence of religious stratification in colonial America. Following Weber (1946), Lenski (1966), and Noel (1968), we use a “modified fair shares” theory that highlights the importance of three contributing influences: religious prejudice, competition, and differential power. After explaining the role played by each of these factors, we document the existence and enduring nature of religious stratification in the colonies. The evidence includes data on the religious establishments that arose in some colonies, other regulations governing access to scarce resources (such as the right to vote and hold public office), and differential access to economic and political power based on religious adherence. We conclude with observations about the need for further research on religious stratification in America.
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