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18 October 2017

Technology Wresting Ritual from Tithing

Here is a research question that I probably won't ever have the chance to pursue:
As more places of worship are offering automated options for electronic financial contribution (i.e. tithing), what, if any, are the negative, unintended consequences?
"Passing the plate" is a ritual common to many religions and is a formalized ritual within the liturgy of many denominations and congregations, particularly in Christianity. As with any ritual, passing the plate reminds people of a shared belief (i.e. everyone is expected to contribute financially to the work of the church); it also then generates solidarity for the group. But what happens when technological advance intrudes on the ritual? Here are a few secondary questions:

  • How does it feel not to put anything in the plate? Does electronic giving diminish ritual participation for individuals?
  • How does it feel to watch others not put anything in the plate? Does the potential electronic giving of others affect how an individual gives? Does it affect how an individual feels about her fellow congregants?
  • Could this increase freeriding behavior? As giving becomes invisible, is it easier to not give?
  • Could there be an unintended consequence whereby congregations actually bring in less money by removing the ritual aspect of giving? While I assume electronic giving locks in contributions and makes them more predictable, is it possible that people are more generous within the ritual than they are when being rational?
I'm guessing there's already research in this area. If not, it's ripe.

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