DP16121 Religion and Persecution

Author(s): Umair Khalil, Laura Panza
Publication Date: May 2021
Date Revised: June 2021
Keyword(s): middle ages, Minority persecution, Religiosity, Religious institutions
JEL(s): D74, N33, N43, N93, Z12
Programme Areas: Economic History
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=16121

This paper investigates the relationship between local religiosity and episodes of persecutions in a sample of over 2,100 European cities during 1100-1850. We introduce a novel proxy for measuring local religion: the cult of saints in early Western Christianity. Our findings show that cities with an established cult of a saint are associated with a 16 and 10 percentage points (pp) increase in the likelihood of witch trials and witch killings and an 11 pp increased likelihood of Jewish persecutions. However, cities with more progressive gender norms, measured by the presence of a female saint cult, are less likely to persecute witches compared to male-only saint cities. Our baseline relationship persists after controlling for a range of city-level economic, geographic and institutional characteristics and after accounting for other major confounders. We find two plausible mechanisms behind the saints-persecution relationship: (i) changes in norms induced by longer exposure to Christianity; and (ii) proximity of religious groups due to congruence of religious festivities.