Opening the Fifth Seal Catholic Martyrs and Forces of Religious Competition

In: Journal of Religion and Demography
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  • 1 Associate, Economics Department, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, US
  • | 2 Paul M. Warburg Professor of Economics, Economics Department, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, US
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Since Pope John Paul II’s stock-taking of twentieth century martyrs, the Catholic Church has significantly increased the beatification and canonization of martyrs. Not only have the numbers of martyrs increased but the definition of martyrdom has expanded. Using a comprehensive new data set on Catholic martyrs (1588 to 2020), we argue that the Vatican’s recent emphasis on martyrs is a strategic response to competition with Protestants, specifically Evangelicals. Martyrs, unlike regular saints (confessors), tend to be predominantly male and died in parts of the world where the Catholic Church was actively involved in evangelization or had a significant presence. Martyrdom often associates with violent events, such as the Spanish Civil War, World War II, and the French Revolution, and with mass persecutions, such as in the English Reformation or in cases of repression of missionaries, as in Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and China.

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