Discussion paper

DP16121 Religion and Persecution

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.


Khalil, U and L Panza (2021), ‘DP16121 Religion and Persecution‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 16121. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp16121