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Education, Religion, and Corruption/Prosperity (A), (B), (C), (1), (2)

Part of the Contributions to Economics book series (CE)

Abstract

This chapter demonstrates the influential association of Protestantism and prosperity by explaining its historical focus on education and human capital building.

Historically (and statistically), one key mechanism driving prosperity/transparency has been the Protestant emphasis on literacy so as to promote reading and understanding the Bible among wider circles (Becker & Woessmann, 2009). This contrasted starkly with the Roman Catholic practice of reciting parts of the Gospel in Latin scholarly language to mostly illiterate peasants (Androne, 2014). The teaching of God’s Word in vernacular languages created linguistic and methodical skills (i.e. exegetical understanding) that proved valuable beyond the religious realm. This practice also led to the accumulation of human capital, and thereby opened and perpetuated an important educational (and hence prosperity) gap between Protestants and Roman Catholics over time.

As part of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, the Jesuits have competed with Protestant education but attaching less importance to the Scriptures in their schooling. Some South American areas influenced by Jesuit missions exhibit 10–15% higher human capital and income than the surrounding Catholic populations. Yet, Jesuit instruction has been largely elitist and far less encompassing than Protestant educational coverage and accomplishment.

Keywords

  • Education and human capital
  • Prosperity
  • Roman Catholicism
  • Jesuitical Education
  • Protestantism
  • Scriptural exegesis
  • Protestant literacy

This chapter discusses the longue durée effect of religion on education and analyses the uneven contributions of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism in this respect.

9.1 The Influence of Religion on Education and Human Capital (Prosperity Pillar Mechanism) (A), (B), (C), (D), (1), (2), (3), (5), (6)

Historically, acquiring education and accumulating human capital have been persistent human endeavours for centuries. They have also constituted a more primary source of prosperity than economic institutions (Glaeser et al., 2004; Easterlin, 1981; Goldin, 2001; Lindert, 2003; Galor, 2005; Hanushek & Woessmann, 2008; Becker & Woessmann, 2009).

Religious factors have both driven and determined unequal education outcomes in Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Becker and Woessmann have found a high correlation coefficient (0.78) between Protestantism and literacy across countries. The authors observe that Protestantism resulted in a significant increase in literacy, which contributed to economic development (p. 582). They further explain that religion was vital for economic progress because it inadvertently caused an imbalanced accumulation of human capital. Thus, after centuries, the denominational disparities that arose after the Reformation had an effect on uneven economic results (p. 534). In their empirical study, the authors found that in 1900, all Protestant-majority countries had achieved almost universal literacy, while no Catholic country had done so. Indeed, many of them were well behind. Existing evidence from inside the countries themselves reveals a similar trend (Becker & Woessmann, 2009, p. 544).

Before the Reformation, roughly only 1% of the population (i.e. a small elite) were literate in Germany (Engelsing as cited in Becker & Woessmann, 2009). In the passage of time, the Reformation has turned out to be a primary driver of schooling. Thus, even today, Protestants are still more educated (0.8 years more), and more prosperous (5.4% higher income) than Catholics in Germany. Standard regressions confirm these correlations (Becker & Woessmann, 2009, pp. 578). The perpetuation of this educational gap between Protestants and Catholics over time allows the authors to conclude that Luther’s educational ideals may have had far-reaching consequences. Protestants in Germany are still better educated, even after more than a century in a public school system that offers fair access to education regardless of religious belief (Becker & Woessmann, 2009, pp. 578–581).

The authors cite several sources showing that similar trends or even wider schooling differences between Protestants and Catholics have existed in other countries such as the USA, Ireland, or Finland. For instance, in Finland in 1880, illiteracy among Catholics was 54.4%, compared with only 1.3% among Lutherans (Markussen as cited in Becker & Woessmann, 2009, p. 544). The following sections explain the differences between Roman Catholic education and Protestant education that can lead to markedly different outcomes.

9.1.1 Roman Catholic Education

Greek philosophy and various other cultural traditions have influenced Roman Catholic theology more strongly than the Holy Scriptures (Selling, 2018, p. 9; Gula, 2002, pp. 120–121; Gruner, 1977, p. 117). For example, Aristotle had a greater influence on Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica than the entire Old Testament. Moreover, Catholicism’s extended allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures stems from Origen, and ultimately from Plato. The Roman Catholic Church, therefore, places its traditions and hierarchical authority over the Scriptures. This explains the significant disparity between Roman Catholicism and essential biblical foundations (Sect. 10.4.1). Furthermore, the Roman system has long suppressed the Scriptures, thus preventing believers from engaging directly with them. Up until the last century, prohibition or persecution were the norm for those who owned, translated, read, or taught the Scriptures without the sanction of the Church (Cook, 2012; Heussi, 1991).

In turn, the most widespread Roman Catholic teaching practices have been the repetition and memorising of dogmatic texts so as to recite them without much understanding (Plata Quezada, 2008; Heussi, 1991; D’Aubigne, 1862). Therefore, such texts, as well as selected parts of the Gospel, were taught in Latin scholarly language to mostly illiterate peasants even after the Middle Ages in Europe (Androne, 2014; Becker & Woessmann, 2009). Such teaching practices suppressed any critical thinking and demanded absolute obedience to unilateral dogmatic discourses, thus enhancing and perpetuating the hegemony of the Church-State. In fact, “The maintenance of ignorance” has been one of the most effective strategies deployed by the Catholic Church-State to influence people’s behaviour (Head-König, 2017, pp. 46–47). Similar practices have been in force until recently, especially in rural areas in some Latin American countries. Similarly, regarding Catholic education in Latin America, Gill (1998) observes that the Catholic Church allocated the vast majority of educational services to the upper classes. Furthermore, the Roman Church underplayed the link between Bible reading and literacy, fearful that it would cause another Protestant Reformation. Thus, for much of Latin America’s existence, the importation of the Bible was prohibited (p. 89).

Moreover, the Roman Church-State has provided far more education in countries where it has had to compete with Protestantism (e.g. USA, India, Ireland) than in countries where it has managed to prevent competition (e.g. Mexico, Spain, Italy). (Woodberry, 2012, p. 269).

9.1.1.1 Jesuitical Education

As with Protestantism, Roman Catholicism cannot be reduced to black and white generalisations. The Catholic Church initiated the Counter-Reformation process in the Council of Trent (1534–1549) and thus contested the advancement of Protestantism. Consequently, the Roman Church-State created new religious orders, among which the Jesuits were the most prominent (Heussi, 1991). Seemingly contradictorily, yet importantly, the Jesuits, despite their loyalty to the pope, were secular before the word was coined (Roy, 2010). One of the novelties introduced by the Jesuits is the focus on analytical skills and higher education through applying the Ratio Studiorum (Pavur, 2005). Competing with Protestant education, which enhanced methodical skills by studying the Scriptures (Becker & Woessmann, 2009), the Jesuits’ Ratio Studiorum advanced Aquinian and Aristotelian teachings. Therefore, Jesuit education had always focused, among others, on the liberal arts, medieval scholasticism, Renaissance humanism, and ethics, thus attaching less importance to any exegetical understanding of the Scriptures (Lukàcs, 1986).

The term Jesuit has two definitions: “a member of the Roman Catholic Society of Jesus founded by St. Ignatius Loyola in 1534” and “one given to intrigue or equivocation” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.) (author’s italics). Similarly, the Oxford Dictionary (2016) defines the term Jesuitical as (1) of or regarding the Jesuits; and (2) dissemble, deception, or equivocation in the way identified with the Jesuits (Oxford University Press, 2016). Similar definitions can be found in Spanish (RAE), German (Duden), or other English dictionaries.

In the nineteenth-century Switzerland, “Liberals considered the Jesuit order ‘an anathema, as the apotheosis of Catholic obscurantism, intrigue, and subversion’” (Gould, 1999 as cited in Obinger, 2009, p. 181). Therefore, the Swiss “constitution of 1874 banned the pope-loyal Jesuit order…” (Obinger, 2009, p. 181). Beyond Switzerland, Schwarz-Herion (2015) observes the following, regarding the historical influence of the Jesuits:

the activities of the Jesuits as personal educators of young people from influential families and as confessors at courts (Goerlitz et al. 1982; Fülöp-Miller 1929) gave them the opportunity to manipulate influential persons and potential blackmailing leverage other monarchs and Princes. […] After some Sovereigns started to get suspicious towards the Jesuits, the Jesuits started to hide behind 1000 masks, pretending to be Brahmans among Brahmans, protestants among protestants, scholars among scholars, etc., always adapting to the circles they were infiltrating (Fülöp-Miller 1929). […] Since the Jesuits were perceived as a threat, the Order of the Jesuits got prohibited in 1773 by Pope Clemens XIV due to pressure from several monarchs (Paris and Fülöp-Miller as cited in Schwarz-Herion, 2015, p. 77).Footnote 1

Notwithstanding the bad reputation formerly acquired by the Jesuits, Schwarz-Herion (2015) further observes that their global influence has increased, and the author states her concern in this regard:

the influence of the Jesuits (SJ) on politics seems to remain unbroken until today. […] Modern Jesuits do not only play an essential role in the Vatican, but are also firmly rooted in international politics: the EU council president Hermann Rompuy said in public: ‘We are all Jesuits’, pointing out that he was “developing the architecture for the future Europe” (Eppink 2012). […] The political networks of these hierarchically structured religious orders, organized in a military way and boasting with their medieval legacy of the cursaders, might pose a serious obstacle to the Great Transition to sustainable global democracy and thus should not be taken lightly by a vigilant enlightened civil society consisting of many humans who have grown up in modern democratic and laical states (Schwarz-Herion, 2015, p. 112).Footnote 2

In South America, some Jesuit missions have had a lasting, positive impact on modern-day human capital and incomes (10–15% higher compared to the surrounding Roman Catholic population in Southern Paraguay and Northern Argentina) (Valencia, 2017). These missions also advanced education among the Catholic population in different places at a subnational level even if they were largely elitist (Woodberry, 2012) and far less encompassing than the traditional Protestant urge for education (Becker & Woessmann, 2009).

9.1.2 Protestant Education

Faith rests not on ignorance, but on knowledge.

(John Calvin, 1559, Institutio Christianae religionis)

Historically, and empirically, education is the most crucial feature that Protestantism influenced and through which it promoted economic prosperity. Statistically, the Protestant lead in literacy accounts for nearly all of the Protestant advantage in economic outcomes (Becker & Woessmann, 2009, p. 532).

Several Reformers, including Martin Luther, were university professors and writers who promoted the Sola Scriptura principle. For this purpose, Luther and other Reformers translated the Scriptures into vernacular languages and taught illiterate people to read (Becker & Woessmann, 2009; Berman, 2003; Witte, 2002). They believed that proper education enables the individual to distinguish right from wrong, truth from falsehood, and to accurately understand “the essentials of the Christian faith” (Green, 2009; Hillerbrand, 1968, as cited in Androne, 2014, p. 81). This explains the Reformatory emphasis on teaching and studying the Scriptures, and thus on establishing elementary schools for ordinary people (Becker & Woessmann, 2009). As the Bible itself states:

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works (King James Bible, 1769, 2 Timothy 3:16).

Similarly, the Scriptures also assert that “Blessed is he that readeth […]” (King James Bible, 1769, Revelation 1:3). Therefore, the Reformers (as well as other early Christians) focused on developing literacy, to enable the reading and teaching of the Gospel (i.e. exegesis). Over time, this enabled Protestants to further utilise these skills in other, non-religious domains (e.g. trade and commerce). As a result, Protestant societies thrived when people were taught to read the Bible, which provided the intellectual resources required for economic development (Becker & Woessmann, 2009, p. 531).

Furthermore, in Protestant countries, education became accessible to (and often mandatory for) all. It combined the study of the Scriptures (instead of Latin scholastic texts) with vocational training. Consequently, the Lutheran Reformation transformed the elitist monopoly of Roman Church-based education into state-based education (initially, locally and nationally in Germany, and later also in other countries). The Reformers’ introduction of a public, “secular” education system with public officials, civic concerns, and laicisation opposed Rome’s one-sided, distorted religious and humanistic learning (Witte, 2002, pp. 290–291). With the Reformation, education remained inherently religious, but over time it became progressively secularised by being harnessed to civic purposes and broader political control (Ibid). Consequently, the study of the Gospel has been of fundamental importance in Protestant countries (e.g. at universities such as Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, Oxford, Geneva, and Zürich).

The Protestant nurturing of the educated middle classes was the precursor of the politics of popular accountability in government (Snyder, 2011; Spruyt, 1994). However, while Protestants have perhaps not always provided the majority of resources (e.g. education, book printing), Protestantism has nevertheless compelled governments to establish schools (Woodberry, 2012, p. 246). Likewise, when facing greater competition with Protestantism, Roman Catholic hierarchies have also defended the interests of the poor (e.g. education for non-elites, democracy) (Gill, 1998; Anderson, 2007; Woodberry, 2012).

Historical Protestantism has also favoured mobilisation “from below”. It has pursued this goal through the early development of literacy at all social levels, and has thus encouraged wider participation in politics. Conversely, the supra-national influence of Roman Catholicism has favoured mobilisation “from above”, leading to a late development of literacy and thus limiting the political participation of the lower social strata (Flora & Heidenheimer, 1981).

In Latin America, in order to spread the Gospel, Protestants also introduced literacy campaigns long before Roman Catholicism (Gill, 1998, p. 89). As the Jesuit Jeffrey Klaiber noted, in Latin America, Protestant missionaries introduced the Bible and have since provided the most readable and best versions of the New Testament in Spanish. Therefore, ironically, Catholic missionaries have had to explain carefully to their Latin American flock that Protestants did not write the Bible and that reading it is not heresy (Klaiber, 1970, p. 99).

9.1.2.1 Summarising the Core Messages of Sect. 9.1.2. Protestant Education

Historically (and statistically), one key mechanism driving prosperity/transparency has been the Protestant emphasis on literacy so as to promote reading and understanding the Bible among wider circles (Becker & Woessmann, 2009; Woodberry, 2012). This contrasted starkly with the Roman Catholic practice of reciting parts of the Gospel in Latin scholarly language to mostly illiterate peasants (Androne, 2014; Becker & Woessmann, 2009). The teaching of God’s Word in vernacular languages created linguistic and methodical skills (i.e. exegetical understanding) that proved valuable beyond the religious realm (Becker & Woessmann, 2009, p. 542). This practice also led to the accumulation of human capital, and thereby opened and perpetuated an important educational (and hence prosperity) gap between Protestants and Roman Catholics over time.

As part of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, the Jesuits have competed with Protestant education but attaching less importance to the Scriptures in their schooling. Some South American areas influenced by Jesuit missions exhibit 10–15% higher human capital and income than the surrounding Catholic populations. Yet, Jesuit instruction has been largely elitist and far less encompassing than Protestant educational coverage and accomplishment.

Notes

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  2. 2.

    Copyright note. This content is not under a CC-BY licence and has been reproduced with permission. This licence is granted under the STM Permission Guidelines https://www.stm-assoc.org/intellectual-property/permissions/permissions-guidelines/

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García Portilla, J. (2022). Education, Religion, and Corruption/Prosperity (A), (B), (C), (1), (2). In: “Ye Shall Know Them by Their Fruits”. Contributions to Economics. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-78498-0_9

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