Tony Gill's book -- The Political Orginis of Religious Liberty (Cambridge, 2008) -- is an excellent example of the explanatory power of the analytic narrative approach to comparative political economy. In this instance, Gill deploys the rational actor framework to glean from comparative histories the general propositions about the how and when religious liberty is adopted, and when it wanes. He focuses on the political process as it relates to the regulation of religious activity. Though he is on record as being a skeptic of "seance methodology" (see 59, fn. 52), Gill does mix interpretative methods that account for human agency (diaries, letters, memoirs) with the more hard edged rational choice institutionalism that is usually thought of when doing positive political ecoonomy. He reads skeptically claims of self-flattery and high motives, and instead traces back to rational self-interest but always understood within a specified context (read ecological rationality not constructivist rationality).
One of the main criticisms of the analytic narrative approach offered by Jon Elster in the APSR, was that the analytic formal game theory resulted in forcing the historical narrative in a direction which was not accurate history. In short, Elster charged the authors of the various studies in Analytic Narratives, not with logical errors, but weakness in historical narratives. He claimed that rational choice history suffered from excessive ambition. But that may itself have been an overstatement. Perhaps all that is needed is a bit more methodological humility, a slight modification of the theoretical framework so that the rational choosers being discussed are human choosers who existed within a specified institutional context, and more emphasis on tracking processes over time rather than equilibrium solutions to a game construct. The resulting intellectual exercise may be able to deal with questions of social change and evolution. This is basically the approach that Elinor Ostrom took in Governing the Commons, and I view the Tony Gill's work as in that same intellectual vein.
Gill's book consists of a series of historical cases on the interaction between political, economic, and religious liberty. This includes studies of colonial America, Latin America, and Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. In some instances, religious liberty emerges, in others it doesn't --- Gill provides the reader with clear hypotheses to explain the reasons why. In the play between preferences and situations, Gill is able to provide an explanation of intimate relationship between religious and overall liberty. This is not a normative exercise, but a positive political economy that examines the self-interested behavior of politicians, religious actors, and others within specified contextual games. History doesn't just happen, it unfolds within specific contexts and decision makers responding to those contexts to pursue their self-interest as they perceive it. (see Gill's appendix with definitions, axioms and propositions, that are used to provide the interpretative framework he deploys to render the historical cases intelligible in terms of human purposes and plans). There are general patterns --- individuals weigh costs and benefits in decision-making; commerce
I believe that for those working in the Misesian tradition of theory and history, Gill's work (though not explicitly tied to that tradition) is a great example of how to do empirical research in that tradition. Also, for those in the Austro-libertarian camp, Gill's work is an excellent example of how by doing positive politcal economy -- as opposed to normative pontificating about rights -- one is better able to explain the historical success and failure of efforts to expand religious and overall liberty. The theoretical framework is able to highlight in the comparative historical cases critical contingencies that should become vital information in the reservoir of useful knowledge on social change toward overall liberty. This is, of course, what I tried to argue in more general terms about research on endogenous rule formation.
Also, check out Gill's podcasts --- Research on Religion -- on January 7th, he will be doing a podcast on the origins of religious liberty.