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Rodney Stark is an American sociologist of religion. 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. After teaching 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 [1]. 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,[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 precursor of more explicitly recourse to economic principles in the study of religion, as later developed by Laurence Iannaccone and others.[2][3]

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 religions faith".[4] 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. 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."[6]

On the theory of evolution

In 2004 The American Enterprise (an online publication of The American Enterprise Institute[7]) 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."[8]


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

General Sociology

  • 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 the observations of the thinly disguised then little known Unification Church)[9]
  • 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 [2] and Part 2 [3]

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

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External links


  1. Stark, Rodney, entry at the Encyclopedia of Religion and Society, William H. Swatos, Jr., ed., AltaMira Press, 1998, online, accessed 5-III-2007.
  2. Alan E. Aldridge (2000). Religion in the contemporary world: a sociological introduction. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 95–97. ISBN 9780745620831. Retrieved 4 December 2010.
  3. 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 1405188529
  5. The National Institute for the Renewal of the Priesthood, 2004
  6. Center for Studies on New Religions
  8. "Rodney Stark (Sept. 2004) Fact, Fable, and Darwin", The American Enterprise Online
  9. Richardson, James T.. "New Religious Movements". Encyclopedia of Religion and Society edited by William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor. Altamira press. Retrieved 2007-07-21.

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