Notes on the Sociology of Religion (18)

John C. Rankin

Stark, Rodney, Exploring the Religious Life (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), Chapters 2 and 7.


  1. Background: a) Rodney Stark. Ph.D., University of California at Berkely (1971), taught at U.C. Berkely, University of Washington; now professor of the social sciences at Baylor; b)The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History (1996); One True God: Historical Consequences of Monotheism (2001); Victories in Reason: How Christianity, Freedom, and Capitalism Led to Western Success (2006); etc.
  2. In Praise of “idealistic humbug”: a) Thomas Hobbes: religion is “credulity,” “ignorance” and “lies”; b) Ludwig von Feuerbach: theology is nothing but anthropology; c) Emile Durkheim: nothing but sociology; d) Max Weber: limits himself to practical effects of the proximate, not fundamentals; e) H. Richard Neibuhr: social and material over doctrinal (Social Sources of Denominationalism); f)“This long line of dismissals of religious effects eventuated in the received wisdom: whenever religion appears to be having social effects, look deeper until you discover the material factor that is the true cause” (p. 23); g) “Materialistic humbug” re: Crusades, Great Awakenings, Medieval Jewish Messianic movements, mystical 1960s and post WWII Japanese religion.
  3. Crusades and Islamic provocation (pp. 24ff): a) “Let me add, however, that although it was about faith, not greed, that launched the Crusades, eventually it was greed, envy, and pride that conspired to bring them down” (p. 29).
  4. Great Awakenings – George Whitfield and volitional religion as opposed to state-supported…
  5. “State churches suppress religious competition and dampen all religious enthusiasm” (p. 33 + Japanese context).
  6. Plagues and doctrines (pp. 37ff): a) in Roman plagues, Christians did not abandon their afflicted, and thus had reduced mortality…− 1. took care of slaves…; b) tangible benefits of Christianity (p. 41).
  7. Gods, Rituals & the Moral Order: a) “Religion functions to sustain the moral order” (p. 136) − 1. Edward Taylor, Herbert Spencer, i] pagan gods make no moral demands + sociological evidence.., ii] Durkheim + other functionalists dismissed gods as window dressing, “Durkheim made a major error when he dismissed Gods as mere religious epiphenomena” (p. 161); a) “Ideas about God, rather than rituals, are the most fundamental basis of religion” (p. 146) − 1. weakness of Eastern Orthodoxy where truth and justice take back seat to aesthetics, i] Communism, 2. Contrast churches of the west, Roman Catholic and Protestant.
  8. Conclusion: a) “The results presented above show that, in and of themselves, rites and rituals have little or no impact on the major effect universally attributed to religion – conformity to the moral order. Thus, it seems necessary to revise the opening line of this chapter as follows: Images of God as conscious, powerful, morally concerned beings function to sustain the moral order” (p. 162).
  9. Critique: on the mark.