Rodney Stark

Rodney Stark

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Rodney Stark is an American sociologist of religion
Sociology of religion
The sociology of religion concerns the role of religion in society: practices, historical backgrounds, developments and universal themes. There is particular emphasis on the recurring role of religion in all societies and throughout recorded history...

. He grew up in Jamestown, North Dakota
Jamestown, North Dakota
As of the census of 2000, there were 15,527 people, 6,505 households, and 3,798 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,246.7 per square mile . There were 6,970 housing units at an average density of 559.6 per square mile...

 in a Lutheran family. He spent time in the U.S. Army and worked as a journalist before pursuing graduate studies at The University of California, Berkeley. After teaching at the University of Washington
University of Washington
University of Washington is a public research university, founded in 1861 in Seattle, Washington, United States. The UW is the largest university in the Northwest and the oldest public university on the West Coast. The university has three campuses, with its largest campus in the University...

 for 32 years, Stark moved to Baylor University
Baylor University
Baylor University is a private, Christian university located in Waco, Texas. Founded in 1845, Baylor is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.-History:...

 in 2004, where he is co-director of the Institute for Studies of Religion http://www.isreligion.org. He is an advocate of the application of the Rational choice theory
Rational choice theory
Rational choice theory, also known as choice theory or rational action theory, is a framework for understanding and often formally modeling social and economic behavior. It is the main theoretical paradigm in the currently-dominant school of microeconomics...

 in the sociology of religion
Sociology of religion
The sociology of religion concerns the role of religion in society: practices, historical backgrounds, developments and universal themes. There is particular emphasis on the recurring role of religion in all societies and throughout recorded history...

, which he calls the theory of religious economy.

Stark-Bainbridge theory of religion


During the late 1970s and 1980s, Stark worked with William Sims Bainbridge
William Sims Bainbridge
William Sims Bainbridge is an American sociologist who currently resides in Virginia. He is co-director of Human-Centered Computing at the National Science Foundation and also teaches sociology as a part-time professor at George Mason University. He is the first Senior Fellow to be appointed by...

 on the Stark-Bainbridge theory of religion, and co-wrote the books The Future of Religion (1985) and A Theory of Religion (1987) with Bainbridge. Nowadays their theory, which aims to explain religious involvement in terms of rewards and compensators, is seen as precursor of more explicitly recourse to economic principles in the study of religion, as later developed by Laurence Iannaccone
Laurence Iannaccone
Laurence R. Iannaccone is a Professor of Economics at Chapman University, Orange County, California. Before moving to Chapman in 2009 he was a Koch Professor of Economics at George Mason University...

 and others.

Stark's views on the Growth of Christianity


Stark has proposed in The Rise of Christianity
The Rise of Christianity (book)
The Rise of Christianity, is a book by the sociologist Rodney Stark, which examines the rise of Christianity from a small movement in Galilee and Judea at the time of Jesus, to the...

that Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 grew through gradual individual conversions
Religious conversion
Religious conversion is the adoption of a new religion that differs from the convert's previous religion. Changing from one denomination to another within the same religion is usually described as reaffiliation rather than conversion.People convert to a different religion for various reasons,...

 via social networks of family, friends and colleagues. His main contribution, by comparing documented evidence of Christianity's spread in the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 with the history of the LDS church
Mormon
The term Mormon most commonly denotes an adherent, practitioner, follower, or constituent of Mormonism, which is the largest branch of the Latter Day Saint movement in restorationist Christianity...

 in the 19th and 20th centuries, was to illustrate that a sustained and continuous growth could lead to huge growth within 200 years. This use of exponential growth
Exponential growth
Exponential growth occurs when the growth rate of a mathematical function is proportional to the function's current value...

 as a driver to explain the growth of the church without the need for mass conversions (deemed necessary by historians until then) is now widely accepted.

Stark has suggested that Christianity grew because it treated women better than pagan religions
Decline of Hellenistic polytheism
The Greco-Roman religion at the time of the Constantinian shift mostly consisted of three main currents,*Greco-Roman Polytheism,*the official Roman imperial cult,*various Mystery religions....

. He also suggested that making Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 weakened the faithfulness of the Christian community by bringing in people who did not really believe or had a weaker belief. This is consistent with Stark's published observations of contemporary religious movements, where once-successful faith movements gradually decline in fervor due to the free rider problem
Free rider problem
In economics, collective bargaining, psychology, and political science, a free rider is someone who consumes a resource without paying for it, or pays less than the full cost. The free rider problem is the question of how to limit free riding...

.

Personal religious faith


In their 1987 book A Theory of Religion, Stark and Bainbridge describe themselves as "personally incapable of religions faith". While reluctant to discuss his own religious views, he stated in a 2004 interview at the time that he was not a man of faith, but also not an atheist:


Interviewer: You once wrote that you’re “not religious as that term is conventionally understood.”

" Rodney Stark: That’s true, though I’ve never been an atheist. Atheism is an active faith; it says, “I believe there is no God.” But I don’t know what I believe. I was brought up a Lutheran in Jamestown, North Dakota
Jamestown, North Dakota
As of the census of 2000, there were 15,527 people, 6,505 households, and 3,798 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,246.7 per square mile . There were 6,970 housing units at an average density of 559.6 per square mile...

. I have trouble with faith. I’m not proud of this. I don’t think it makes me an intellectual. I would believe if I could, and I may be able to before it’s over. I would welcome that."


In a 2007 interview, after accepting an appointment at Baylor University
Baylor University
Baylor University is a private, Christian university located in Waco, Texas. Founded in 1845, Baylor is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.-History:...

, Stark indicated that his self-understanding had changed and that he could now be described as an "independent Christian." In this interview Stark recollects that he has "always been a “cultural” Christian" understood by him as having "been strongly committed to Western Civilization." Of his previous positions he wrote: "I was never an atheist, but I probably could have been best described as an agnostic."

On the theory of evolution


In 2004 The American Enterprise (an online publication of The American Enterprise Institute
American Enterprise Institute
The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research is a conservative think tank founded in 1943. Its stated mission is "to defend the principles and improve the institutions of American freedom and democratic capitalism—limited government, private enterprise, individual liberty and...

) published an article by Stark critical of the stifling of debate on Evolutionary Theory
Evolution
Evolution is any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including species, individual organisms and molecules such as DNA and proteins.Life on Earth...

. In "Facts, Fable and Darwin", Stark criticized the "Darwinian Crusade" and their "tactic of claiming that the only choice is between Darwin and Bible literalism". Though not a Creationist himself, he believes that though "the theory of evolution is regarded as the invincible challenge to all religious claims, it is taken for granted among the leading biological scientists that the origin of species has yet to be explained". He suggests that governments "lift the requirement that high school texts enshrine Darwin's failed attempt as an eternal truth."

Sociology of Religion

  • Christian Beliefs and anti-Semitism (1966) with Charles Y. Glock
  • American Piety (1968) with Charles Y. Glock
  • The Future of Religion: Secularization, Revival, and Cult formation (1985), with William Sims Bainbridge
    William Sims Bainbridge
    William Sims Bainbridge is an American sociologist who currently resides in Virginia. He is co-director of Human-Centered Computing at the National Science Foundation and also teaches sociology as a part-time professor at George Mason University. He is the first Senior Fellow to be appointed by...

  • A Theory of Religion (1987), with William Sims Bainbridge
    William Sims Bainbridge
    William Sims Bainbridge is an American sociologist who currently resides in Virginia. He is co-director of Human-Centered Computing at the National Science Foundation and also teaches sociology as a part-time professor at George Mason University. He is the first Senior Fellow to be appointed by...

  • Religion, Deviance, and Social Control (1996), with William Sims Bainbridge
    William Sims Bainbridge
    William Sims Bainbridge is an American sociologist who currently resides in Virginia. He is co-director of Human-Centered Computing at the National Science Foundation and also teaches sociology as a part-time professor at George Mason University. He is the first Senior Fellow to be appointed by...

  • The Churching of America 1776-1992: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy (1992), with Roger Finke
    Roger Finke
    Roger Finke is a Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies at the Pennsylvania State University who is noteworthy not only for playing a major role in recent transformations of both theory and research methods in his field, but also for leading a large number of other scholars to create the...

    ; 2nd edition under name The Churching of America 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy (2005)
  • The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History
    The Rise of Christianity (book)
    The Rise of Christianity, is a book by the sociologist Rodney Stark, which examines the rise of Christianity from a small movement in Galilee and Judea at the time of Jesus, to the...

    (1996)
  • Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion (2000), with Roger Finke
    Roger Finke
    Roger Finke is a Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies at the Pennsylvania State University who is noteworthy not only for playing a major role in recent transformations of both theory and research methods in his field, but also for leading a large number of other scholars to create the...

  • One True God: Historical Consequences of Monotheism ISBN 978-0-691-11500-9 (2001)
  • For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery ISBN 978-0-691-11436-1 (2003)
  • Exploring the Religious Life ISBN 0-8018-7844-6 (2004)
  • The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success ISBN 0-8129-7233-3 (2005)
  • The Rise of Mormonism
    The Rise of Mormonism
    The Rise of Mormonism is a book which was written by the sociologist of religions Rodney Stark. It was reviewed in Journal of Mormon History.-Contents:# Joseph Smith Among the Revelators# Mormon Networks of Faith...

    (2005) ISBN 0-231-13634-X
  • Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome (2006)
  • Discovering God: A New Look at the Origins of the Great Religions ISBN 978-0-06-117389-9 (2007)
  • God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades (2009)

General Sociology

  • Sociology (1985) an introductory college sociology text that has been through ten editions as of 2007.

Articles

  • John Lofland
    John Lofland (sociologist)
    John Lofland is an American sociologist, professor, and author best known for his studies of the peace movement and for his first book, Doomsday Cult: A Study of Conversion, Proselytization, and Maintenance of Faith which was based on field work among a group of Unification Church members in...

     and Rodney Stark Becoming a World-Saver: A Theory of Conversion to a Deviant Perspective American Sociological Review of 1965. (an early and influential conversion theory based on field work among Unification Church
    Unification Church
    The Unification Church is a new religious movement founded by Korean religious leader Sun Myung Moon. In 1954, the Unification Church was formally and legally established in Seoul, South Korea, as The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity . In 1994, Moon gave the church...

     members)
  • Rodney Stark and Williams Sims Bainbridge (1979) Of Churches, Sects, and Cults: Preliminary Concepts for a Theory of Religious Movements Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 18, no 2: 117-33




Additional biographical source: Rodney Stark. "On Theory-Driven Methods." pp. 175–196 in The Craft of Religious Studies, edited by Jon R. Stone. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.

Further reading


  • David Lehman, Rational Choice and the Sociology of Religion, chapter 8 in Bryan S. Turner
    Bryan S. Turner (sociologist)
    Bryan S. Turner is a British and Australian sociologist . He was born in January 1945 to working class parents in Birmingham, England. Turner has led a remarkably nomadic life having held university appointments in England, Scotland, Australia, Germany, Holland, Singapore and the United States...

     (ed.) The New Blackwell Companion to the Sociology of Religion, John Wiley and Sons, 2010, ISBN 1405188529
  • Big Ideas Baylor Magazine's 2004 profile of Stark's career to date.
  • Rodney Stark, "How Christianity (and Capitalism) Led to Science". The Chronicle of Higher Education
    The Chronicle of Higher Education
    The Chronicle of Higher Education is a newspaper and website that presents news, information, and jobs for college and university faculty, staff members and administrators....

    . December 2, 2005.
  • The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism and Western Success Reviewed by William Grimes, Sunday, January 22, 2006, The New York Times

External links