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Rodney Stark
Born 1934[1]
Jamestown, North Dakota
Education BA, journalism, University of Denver, 1959
MA, sociology, University of California, Berkeley, 1965
PhD, sociology, University of California, Berkeley, 1971[2]
Occupation Professor of Social Sciences
Employer Baylor University
Homepage, Baylor University

Rodney Stark (born 1934) is an American sociologist of religion. He is Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University, co-director of the university's Institute for Studies of Religion, and founding editor of the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion.[2]

Stark has written over 30 books, including The Rise of Christianity (1996), and more than 140 scholarly articles on subjects as diverse as prejudice, crime, suicide, and city life in ancient Rome.[3] He has twice won the Distinguished Book Award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, for The Future of Religion: Secularization, Revival, and Cult Formation (1985, with William Sims Bainbridge), and for The Churching of America 1776–1990 (1992, with Roger Finke).[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Stark grew up in Jamestown, North Dakota, in a Lutheran family. He spent time in the United States Army, before graduating in journalism from the University of Denver in 1959. He worked as a journalist for the Oakland Tribune from 1959 until 1961, then pursued graduate work, obtaining his MA in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley in 1965 and his PhD, also from Berkeley, in 1971.[2]

Career and research[edit]

Positions held[edit]

After completing his PhD, Stark held appointments as a research sociologist at the Survey Research Center and at the Center for the Study of Law and Society. After teaching as Professor of Sociology and of Comparative Religion at the University of Washington for 32 years, Stark moved to Baylor University in 2004, where he is co-director of the Institute for Studies of Religion.[3] He is an advocate of the application of the rational choice theory in the sociology of religion, which he calls the theory of religious economy.[1]

Stark–Bainbridge theory of religion[edit]

During the late 1970s and 1980s, Stark worked with William Sims Bainbridge on the Stark–Bainbridge theory of religion,[1] 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 a precursor of the more explicit recourse to economic principles in the study of religion as later developed by Laurence Iannaccone and others.[4][5]

On the growth of Christianity[edit]

Stark has proposed in The Rise of Christianity that Christianity grew through gradual individual conversions via social networks of family, friends and colleagues. His main contribution, by comparing documented evidence of Christianity's spread in the Roman Empire with the history of the LDS church 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 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. He also suggested that making Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire 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.

On the theory of evolution[edit]

In 2004 The American Enterprise, an online publication of the American Enterprise Institute, published an article by Stark, "Facts, Fable and Darwin," critical of the stifling of debate on evolution. 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."[6]

Personal religious faith[edit]

In their 1987 book A Theory of Religion, Stark and Bainbridge describe themselves as "personally incapable of religious faith".[7] While reluctant to discuss his own religious views, he stated in a 2004 interview that he was not a man of faith, but also not an atheist.[8] In a 2007 interview, after accepting an appointment at Baylor University, 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."[9]

Selected works[edit]


  • 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
  • Sociology (1985) an introductory college sociology text that has been through ten editions as of 2007.
  • A Theory of Religion (1987), with William Sims Bainbridge
  • Religion, Deviance, and Social Control (1996), with William Sims Bainbridge
  • The Churching of America 1776-1992: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy (1992), with Roger Finke; 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 (1996)
  • Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion (2000), with Roger Finke. University of California Press
  • 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 (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)
  • The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World's Largest Religion (2011)


  • John Lofland 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 members)[10]
  • A Taxonomy of Religious Experience in The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1965 [1]
  • 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
  • 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.
  • Stark, R., “Fact, Fable and Darwin” in One America, September 2004; Part 1 in [2] and Part 2 [3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d André Nauta, "Stark, Rodney", Encyclopedia of Religion and Society, 1998.
  2. ^ a b c Curriculum vitae, Baylor University.
  3. ^ a b "Rodney Stark". Baylor University. 15 March 2013. 
  4. ^ Alan E. Aldridge (2000). Religion in the contemporary world: A sociological introduction. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 95–97. 
  5. ^ David Lehmann, "Rational Choice and the Sociology of Religion", in Bryan S. Turner (ed.), The New Blackwell Companion to the Sociology of Religion, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, pp. 181–200.
  6. ^ Rodney Stark, "Fact, Fable, and Darwin", The American Enterprise, September 2004.
  7. ^ Lehmann, p. 183.
  8. ^ JKNIRP.com The National Institute for the Renewal of the Priesthood, 2004
  9. ^ Cesnur.org Center for Studies on New Religions
  10. ^ James T. Richardson (1998). "New Religious Movements". Encyclopedia of Religion and Society. 

Further reading[edit]

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488 news items

World Magazine

World Magazine
Sat, 12 Apr 2014 06:41:15 -0700

Historian Rodney Stark writes books that are models of popularly accessible scholarly writing. After reporting for the Oakland Tribune and The Denver Post, Stark gained a Ph.D. and taught at the University of Washington for 32 years before heading to ...

Wall Street Journal

Wall Street Journal
Sun, 30 Mar 2014 14:24:58 -0700

In "How the West Won," Rodney Stark details how and why the vital aspects of modernity—defined here as a combination of sensible economic arrangements, political freedoms and scientific knowledge—developed in the West rather than elsewhere. In the ...
National Review Online (blog)
Thu, 17 Apr 2014 01:03:45 -0700

RODNEY STARK: The fundamental advantage was belief in the Judeo-Christian God: a conscious, rational being who created a rational universe that runs according to rational principles that can be discovered and comprehended by human beings. From this ...
Baylor University
Tue, 15 Apr 2014 14:00:00 -0700

Jang's appointment, effective May 19, 2014, “represents a major step forward in advancing ISR's ambitious research agenda in the area of crime and delinquency,” said Rodney Stark, Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at ISR. “Professor Jang ...
Waynesville Smoky Mountain News
Wed, 09 Apr 2014 07:26:15 -0700

The emperor did these things, as Rodney Stark tells us in How The West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity (ISBN 161017085-7, $27.95) because of “Confucian opposition to change on grounds that the past was greatly superior.”.
Religion Dispatches (blog)
Fri, 11 Apr 2014 13:37:30 -0700

In 1987, sociologists William Sims Bainbridge and Rodney Stark published A Theory of Religion, a landmark and controversial attempt to explain religious belief and practice in terms of rational choice theory—that we do religion because, at least on ...

The Federalist

The Federalist
Sun, 30 Mar 2014 23:33:45 -0700

Giving credit where credit is due. By Rodney Stark. Rodney Stark. By Rodney Stark. March 31, 2014. Email. Print. Follow Us on Twitter. Like Us on Facebook. Hangout with us. It's remarkably unfashionable to study—or even talk about—the West these days.
Tue, 08 Apr 2014 11:04:42 -0700

In fact, Rodney Stark demonstrated in What Americans Really Believe megachurches had more intimacy and better pastoral care than smaller churches (p. 48-49). Stark's research notwithstanding, however, let's acknowledge that it is easier for people to ...

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