Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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

One of the key concepts in the formal theory of religion developed by the U.S. sociologists Rodney Stark and William Sims Bain-bridge (e.g., 1987). According to this theory, people seek rewards and try to acquire them at low costs. Rewards are anything people desire , material and or immaterial. The things people desire depend both on their personal preferences and on the sociocultural context in which they are embedded.

Rewards are unequally distributed: Some are scarcer than others, and some even seem to be attainable only in the distant future or in an "other world," such as life eternal. This is why substitutes or compensators have been invented for these rewards, and they are treated as if they were rewards. Two types of compensators can be discerned: general and specific. General refers to "a great array of rewards or rewards of vast scope," whereas a specific compensator is the opposite. As a rule, general compensators are found in religion, whereas magicians are the providers of specific compensators par excellence.

See also Rational Choice Theory

Durk H. Hak


R. Stark and W. S. Bainbridge, A Theory of Religion (New York: Lang, 1987).

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