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Aug 06

Gambling, religion and hope

Anima purgante, © Per Binde 1991

Gambling and religion are competitors on a ”market for hope”. That is the main argument of an article by German scholar Mark Lutter, published in the journal Soziale Problem and recently made available on the internet. The article can be downloaded here: M. Lutter, 2011, Konkurrenten auf dem Markt für Hoffnung: Religiöse Wurzeln der gesellschaftlichen Problematisierung von Glücksspielen.

Lutter cites my paper from 2007 – Gambling and religion: Histories of concord and conflict  (in the Journal of Gambling Issues) – which probably is the first text published in English that from an anthropological perspective analyzes the diverse relationships between gambling and religion in various societies and at various times in history. I argue that gambling and religion have common elements. In polytheistic religions these common elements cause the two to merge, while in monotheistic religions they fuel the denunciation of gambling. In the latter case, gambling is perceived to offer a wicked alternative to certain religious notions and experiences.

Lutter focuses on gambling and religion being competitors on a “market for hope”. He formulates three hypotheses building on that assumption and finds them confirmed in statistical analyses of survey data from the USA and Germany. Lutter sums up the article: “Despite high revenues and economic importance, one third of the German population holds disparaging views on gambling. The article argues that opposition to gambling can be traced back to Protestant religious values, it serves similar structures of meaning which make them competitors on a “market for hope.” This relationship is confirmed in a comparative perspective using survey data from the U.S. and Germany.”

I recommend Lutter’s article to all of you who read German!

[The photo shows the skull of an “abandoned soul in Purgatory” (anima purgante) resting in catacomb under a church in Naples. It was believed to have the capacity to foretell the winning numbers on the lotto, which makes it an example of a merger between gambling and popular religion. The photo is from one of my field trips to Southern Italy in the early 1990s].

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