Exploring the Religious Life

Overview

Though religion is for most people one of the most important aspects of their lives, social scientists and other observers of human society too often misunderstand and misrepresent the nature and role of religion in history and in daily life. From the supposed decline of religious attitudes in Western Europe and the venal motivations attributed to the Christian Crusaders to the very definition of religion, personal biases and an inadequate grasp of relevant data have led to the formulation and propagation of ...

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Overview

Though religion is for most people one of the most important aspects of their lives, social scientists and other observers of human society too often misunderstand and misrepresent the nature and role of religion in history and in daily life. From the supposed decline of religious attitudes in Western Europe and the venal motivations attributed to the Christian Crusaders to the very definition of religion, personal biases and an inadequate grasp of relevant data have led to the formulation and propagation of unsupportable views on the sacred. In Exploring the Religious Life, Rodney Stark boldly overturns much received wisdom within the social sciences about religion, drawing on a wide range of sources to reassess a diverse selection of topics in the study of religion.

In his first essay, Stark addresses the carelessness with which scholars use the term religion and the conviction that the belief in divinity evolved from the practice of magic in primitive cultures. In subsequent chapters, he challenges the widespread attitude among social scientists that religion is nothing more than a mask for material realities and examines the effectiveness of religious doctrines in attracting converts and influencing individuals; uncovers the surprising prevalence of upper-class asceticism in medieval Christianity; and explores the relationship between gender, piety, and criminal activity. Divine revelation is a central aspect of many religions, and Stark next applies empirical research to the phenomenon to assess its meaning in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Mormonism. He then turns to the confusion between faith and practice in debates over the secularization of the developed world before investigating the validity of the classic proposition within the social sciences that religion functions to sustain the moral order. He does so, examining the correlation between criminal behavior and depth of religious belief. Stark concludes with an essay on the ingenious methods he uses to unearth data about the popularity of new religions in California and northern Europe, the decline of Christian Science in America, the spread of Christianity in the Roman world, and the execution patterns during the antiwitchcraft frenzy of Enlightenment Europe.

Together, the essays that constitute Exploring the Religious Life offer an engaging introduction to Rodney Stark's provocative insights and a fearless challenge to academic perceptions about religion's place in history, society, and private life.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Lexington Theological Quarterly - Paul H. Jones

gratifying in its wisdom

History of Religions - Ole Riis

Read as a positive provocation, Stark's definitions open discussion concerning the subject of the scientific study of religion

First Things

Rodney Stark, whom some consider, not without reason, today's most provocative thinker in the sociology of religion. This book of essays is a sampler of Stark's sometimes contrarian but always suggestive explorations into 'the religious life.'

Catholic Historical Review
[Stark] has been throwing elegant, polished bricks at the dogmas of sociology for many years... Exploring the Religious Life is a whole bag of bricks, a collection of his recent essays about religion... This book of essays belongs in every college and university library so that students can be directed to it for a contrarian view of the dilapidated secularization theory.

— Andrew Greeley

Lexington Theological Quarterly
gratifying in its wisdom

— Paul H. Jones

History of Religions
Read as a positive provocation, Stark's definitions open discussion concerning the subject of the scientific study of religion

— Ole Riis

Catholic Historical Review - Andrew Greeley

[Stark] has been throwing elegant, polished bricks at the dogmas of sociology for many years... Exploring the Religious Life is a whole bag of bricks, a collection of his recent essays about religion... This book of essays belongs in every college and university library so that students can be directed to it for a contrarian view of the dilapidated secularization theory.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801878442
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 232
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Rodney Stark was for many years a professor of sociology at the University of Washington. Since 2004, he has been University Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University. He is the author of numerous books, including One True God: Historical Consequences of Monotheism and The Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

Preface
1 Religion, Magic & Science 1
2 In Praise of "Idealistic Humbug" 21
3 Upper-Class Asceticism 43
4 Faith & Gender 60
5 How Are Revelations Possible? 84
6 Spirituality & Unchurched Religions in America, Sweden & Japan 114
7 Gods, Rituals & the Moral Order 136
8 Discovering Data on Religion 163
Notes 183
Bibliography 185
Index 209
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