Rodney Stark (born 1934) is an American sociologist of religion and a long time professor of sociology and of comparative religion at the University of Washington. He has published 30 books and more than 140 scholarly articles on subjects as diverse as prejudice, crime, suicide, and city life in ancient Rome.
- 1 Early life and education
- 2 Stark-Bainbridge theory of religion
- 3 Stark's views on the growth of Christianity
- 4 Personal religious faith
- 5 On the theory of evolution
- 6 Bibliography
- 7 Notes
- 8 See also
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
Early life and education
He grew up in Jamestown, North Dakota, 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 where he subsequently 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. 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.
Stark-Bainbridge theory of religion
During the late 1970s and 1980s, Stark worked with William Sims Bainbridge 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 a precursor of the more explicit recourse to economic principles in the study of religion as later developed by Laurence Iannaccone and others.
Stark's views on the growth of Christianity
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.
Personal religious faith
In their 1987 book A Theory of Religion, Stark and Bainbridge describe themselves as "personally incapable of religious faith". 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:
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. 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, 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) published an article by Stark critical of the stifling of debate on Evolutionary Theory. 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."
Stark has published 28 books and 144 articles according to his Curriculum Vitae. The list below is incomplete; see his Curriculum Vitae for the full list.
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
- 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)
- Sociology (1985) an introductory college sociology text that has been through ten editions as of 2007.
- 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)
- 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
- Stark, R., “Fact, Fable and Darwin” in One America, September 2004; Part 1 in  and Part 2 
- A Taxonomy of Religious Experience in The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1965 
- 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.
- "Rodney Stark, Co-Director, Institute for Studies of Religion Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences". Baylor University. 15 March 2013. Retrieved 3 November 2013.
- Stark, Rodney, entry at the Encyclopedia of Religion and Society, William H. Swatos, Jr., ed., AltaMira Press, 1998, online, accessed 5-III-2007.
- Alan E. Aldridge (2000). Religion in the contemporary world: a sociological introduction. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 95–97. ISBN 978-0-7456-2083-1. Retrieved 4 December 2010.
- David Lehmann, "Rational Choice and the Sociology of Religion", chapter 8 in Bryan S. Turner (ed.) The New Blackwell Companion to the Sociology of Religion, Blackwell companions to sociology, Chichester, West Sussex / Malden, Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, ISBN 978-1-4051-8852-4, pp. 181–200.
- Lehmann, p. 183.
- JKNIRP.com The National Institute for the Renewal of the Priesthood, 2004
- Cesnur.org Center for Studies on New Religions
- "Rodney Stark (Sept. 2004) Fact, Fable, and Darwin", The American Enterprise Online
- Richardson, James T. "New Religious Movements". Encyclopedia of Religion and Society edited by William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor. Altamira press. Retrieved 2007-07-21.
- Religious capital, an idea used frequently in Stark's work
- David Lehman, Rational Choice and the Sociology of Religion, chapter 8 in Bryan S. Turner (ed.) The New Blackwell Companion to the Sociology of Religion, John Wiley and Sons, 2010, ISBN 1-4051-8852-9
- 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. 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