• theory;
  • religious economy;
  • political economy;
  • disestablishment

The religious economies model has been influential in the sociology of religion. Yet, propositions drawn from the model have been difficult to test in the comparative and historical study of religion, generally for lack of appropriate data. We develop a general theory of religious disestablishment and apply it to the Reformation in 16th-century Europe to explain variation in the abolition of the Catholic monopoly. We suggest three principal factors—changes in demand, entry control mechanisms, and political incentives—that explain why incumbent religious firms may lose their monopoly. We then analyze the resulting hypotheses in a systematic analysis of cities in the Holy Roman Empire. Our analysis yields mixed support for demand-side factors and entry control mechanisms, and firm support for political incentives in the institution of reform.