|Born||July 8, 1934|
Jamestown, North Dakota,
|Education||BA, journalism, University of Denver, 1959|
MA, sociology, University of California, Berkeley, 1965
PhD, sociology, University of California, Berkeley, 1971
|Occupation||Professor of Social Sciences|
|Website||Homepage, Baylor University|
Rodney William Stark (born July 8, 1934) is an American sociologist of religion who was a long time professor of sociology and of comparative religion at the University of Washington. He is presently the 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.
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. 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).
Stark was born in 1934 and 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.
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. 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.
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 has been one of the most vocal critics of theories of secularization. In 1999, he published an article entitled "Secularization, R.I.P." that became both famous and controversial. He expanded his theory in subsequent works, claiming that statistical data does not support the theory of a decline of religion in modern societies. Although it is true that the forms and practices of religion change, the idea of a decline called "secularization," Stark argued, derives from faulty quantitative analysis and ideological preconceptions.
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.
While not a Roman Catholic himself, Stark believes that Anti-Catholicism is still a dominant force in the American media and the academia. Particularly in his book Bearing False Witness (2016), he has argued that an anti-Catholic prejudice has poisoned the historical debate on the Crusades, the Inquisition and the relations of Pope Pius XII with Nazism, creating an "anti-Catholic history" that is at odds with contemporary academic research, yet is still taught in schools and promoted by mainline media.
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."
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. 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."