May, Matthew Brian
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Just like other types of organizations, congregations are goal-directed, boundary-maintaining, and socially constructed systems of human activity. Unlike more traditional organizational forms, however, congregations are primarily dealers in otherworldly goods. Due to this distinction, the sociology of religion has generally overlooked theories of organizational competition when trying to account for macro-level changes in religious participation. Unfortunately, the theories that supposedly account for religious competition within the sociology of religion do not actually measure competition in meaningful ways. To remedy this important problem, I rely on insights from neo-institutionalism, population ecology, and the organizational culture metaphor to address four empirical research questions: 1) How does the organizational environment affect the emergence of new religious congregations? 2) How does the organizational environment affect the failure of religious congregations? 3 How do institutionalized pressures shape the competitive strategies of religious congregations? And 4) how do the organizational cultures of religious congregations combat/contribute to the secularization process? To answer these questions, I use quantitative and qualitative data on a population of Southern Baptist congregations situated in America’s “Bible Belt.” My analyses reveal that congregations are subject to the same types of environmental pressures as other types of organizations. More specifically, congregations must work to garner and maintain a certain level of legitimacy, and they must compete with other like-minded congregations in their local environment in order to survive. Based on their adherence to institutional myths and their relationship to the normative pressures in their field, congregations adopt one of three competitive strategies that I call Zealous Advocacy, Local Visibility, and Charismatic Conservativism. Each of these strategies also creates an organizational culture within the congregation that has a direct impact on the secularization of their larger social world.