Item description for The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries by Rodney Stark...
Overview A study of the early history of Christianity reveals that it attracted members of the upper class, that many of the early converts were women and marginalized Jews, and that it helped converts achieve happier lives. Reprint.
This "fresh, blunt, and highly persuasive account of how the West was won--for Jesus" (Newsweek) is now available in paperback. Stark's provocative report challenges conventional wisdom and finds that Christianity's astounding dominance of the Western world arose from its offer of a better, more secure way of life.
"Compelling reading" (Library Journal) that is sure to "generate spirited argument" (Publishers Weekly), this account of Christianity's remarkable growth within the Roman Empire is the subject of much fanfare. "Anyone who has puzzled over Christianity's rise to dominance...must read it." says Yale University's Wayne A. Meeks, for The Rise of Christianity makes a compelling case for startling conclusions. Combining his expertise in social science with historical evidence, and his insight into contemporary religion's appeal, Stark finds that early Christianity attracted the privileged rather than the poor, that most early converts were women or marginalized Jews--and ultimately "that Christianity was a success because it proved those who joined it with a more appealing, more assuring, happier, and perhaps longer life" (Andrew M. Greeley, University of Chicago).
Citations And Professional Reviews The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries by Rodney Stark has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
Christian Century - 05/03/2011 page 40
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Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 0.75" Width: 5.5" Height: 8.25" Weight: 0.45 lbs.
Release Date Jun 1, 1997
ISBN 0060677015 ISBN13 9780060677015 UPC 099455014953
Availability 0 units.
More About Rodney Stark
Rodney Stark is the distinguished professor of the social sciences and codirector of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University and honorary professor of sociology at Peking University in Beijing. He is the author or coauthor of a number of books in 17 different languages, including the best-selling The Rise of Christianity. (HarperSanFrancisco, 1997)
Reviews - What do customers think about The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal, Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force ....?
Excellent discussion on the phenomenon of Christian ascendancy Jun 8, 2008
This book presents some interesting propositions concerning the development of early Christianity in the Greco-Roman world. Stark utilizes sociological data in conjunction with historical references to develop his arguments relating to Christianity's appeal in urban communities between the first century and the beginning of the fourth. He kicks off the survey by pointing out a necessary 40 percent growth rate per decade for Christianity - from 1,000 in the year 40 to 6,299,832 in the year 300. This is supported by reference to the 43 percent rate shown by the Mormon church over the past century.
From this starting point, Stark moves on to present theories on how the process worked. His discussion on the role of social networks is very good and serves as a necessary first brick in the structure he steadily assembles throughout the remainder of the book. Conversion and adherence to a new faith is in many cases dependent on an individual's social interconnections with the like-minded. Through these networks, we have the makings of an exponential rise in new members over time. This is not simply asserted as axiomatic - he draws on sociological research data specific to religious studies as evidence.
As a side note: one aspect of conversion that is not covered in Stark's text (unless I missed it) is the necessary inequality of the process in the examined setting. For new pagan religions at the time (e.g., Mithras, Isis, etc...), to accept them would simply be to add a new god to a stable that already includes the state gods, the mysteries, and so on. This is a process of syncretism, rather than replacement.
But to accept Christianity means to take on an exclusive belief system. So by its very nature (i.e., "No other gods before me"), a successful Christianity would necessarily wipe out pagan practices over time.
But knowing this doesn't say anything as to why it happened...
To explain this, Stark develops his thesis in discussions concerning events/reactions, ethics, and the need for a unifying force in an increasingly fragmented empire. Highlights include:
1) Analysis of how the Christian response to devastating epidemics helped to underscore their ethical system and the perceived power of God. As Christians were exposed, they naturally developed immunity to the microbes responsible for countless deaths. This immunity must have appeared miraculous to observers and conversions would follow. As the pagan population of cities decreased, the Christian population increased.
2) An especially revealing account of the self-destructive tendencies of Roman society in general. Several factors - including serious problems of abortion and infanticide, continuous violent conflict, and a perverse fascination with gladiatorial butchery - contributed to a severe decline in population over time.
3) An outline of the atrocious living conditions in most cities of the empire. From the constant threat of violence, to collapsing buildings, raging conflagrations, and outbreaks, life in the overcrowded cities often spelled misery and untimely death for many of the poorer inhabitants. "Urban Chaos and Crisis" indeed...
In summary, Stark presents a very compelling set of ideas explaining how Christianity became the dominant religion in the Roman empire and eventually the world. Based on the arguments and the evidence marshalled to support his claims, the rise may very well be attributed to a "rational choice", in that the overall cost/benefit equation showed a real bargain for Christian converts.
Good resource on the subject Feb 24, 2008
Rodney Stark is a social scientist who really incorporates different research methods for this book. Using history, sociology and even some anthropology to try and figure out why Christianity became what it is today, makes this book a very good read. In this book Stark covers many different factors such as the treatment of women by the early church, how early Christians treated each other, martyrs and early doctrine and how they all play a role in making Christianity what it is today. I do not agree with some of the conclusions that Stark makes in his book and at times I think he makes generalizations that I suggest need further study. That being said, I learned a lot from this book. I recommend this book to the college student who is studying this time period, or to those who like in my case had it assigned as a textbook for a course, do not worry its a good book. I also recommend this book to those who are just interested in the history of Christianity in general. This book definately adds to the discussion of The Rise of Christianity.
Groundbreaking Work by a Sociologist Feb 17, 2008
I was so inspired by Dr. Stark's careful research and thinking that I came to this site to write a review. Then I discovered Paul Frandano's review. I have never met Paul, but I think my best contribution to this collection of reviews would be to say, "read Paul's review!" He's nailed the book's strengths and noted his weakness (toward women). I thoroughly recommend Stark's The Rise of Christianity, and I thoroughly recommend you read Paul's review!
Very informative Dec 30, 2007
This is a well written book that gives very useful information on the sociology of the early church/christians. This book is quite unique, at times, technical - sometimes a little bit on the side of apologetics yet, the author tries to remain fair and objective. He is quoting interesting Christian and non-Christian sources to affirm his statements. The reader of this book does not need to have a strong background in sociology to understand it - just a strong interest in the subject!
Excellent Nov 9, 2007
This is a very stimulating book about the rapid development of the Jesus-movement in the first 3 centuries. The author uses methods taken from modern sociology of religions, and aplies them on the early church. He shows convincingly that the main reason for church growth in the beginning was relations and communal care, shortly: the christian ethos, combined with "natural causes" like a surplus of women and child births compared with the pagan world. The fact that the christians did not take abortions or otherwise kill their children, like the pagans did, is an essential factor in this development. The main reason for christian growth was not great preachers or revivals, but the integrity and service of the congreagations in their community. This book gives many impulses to modern church life!