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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable.,
This review is from: The Rise of Christianity (Paperback)In 313 AD the Emperors Licinius and Constantine I signed the Edict of Milan proclaiming religious toleration within the Roman empire.
This act has generally come to be understood by most of us a the de facto historical moment of the 'legalisation of Christianity' and from here its spread across the empire was exponential. Christianity, though,had survived for nearly 300 years up to the edict in a Greco-Roman world full of chaotic, unorganised cities in which dozens of pagan deities were worshipped. It had survived sporadic persecutions and epidemics but still Christianity managed to grow and survive. Why did people convert? Who converted? Where were conversions most concentrated? How did epidemics affect conversion? Why did people choose to be martyrs?
Rodney Stark brings to bear modern methods of religio-sociological research upon the question,'Why was Christianity so successful?'and in doing so opens up to the reader a vivid impression of just how and why people did what they did nearly 2000 years ago.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An eye-opener,
This review is from: The Rise of Christianity (Paperback)This book is so interesting I started to read it again as soon as I had finished it the first time.
Stark paints a vivid picture of the life and times of ordinary Jews, Greeks and Romans in the years following the Crucifixion. His arguments as to how the early Church acheived such impressive and resiliant growth are compelling and they give some insight into how the modern Church might recapture some of this vitality.
Stark is a sociologist straying into historical analysis, and there are some accompanying flaws as a result of this adventure. For example, his description of Antioch as a crowded, chaotic and filthy place to live could equally describe nearly any city up until the modern era. Indeed, Stark himself draws parallels between ancient Antioch and modern Bombay. If Christainity alone (or the related religions of Islam, Judiasm and Mormonism) could address the needs of the urban downtrodden then Hinduism and Buddhism would not have the stronghold in India that they currently possess. The fact that he has to impress his readers that whole families lived in single rooms with their livestock reveals his American (multi-room, livestock-free) upbringing - or that of the undergraduates he has to teach.
However, this is a minor flaw in an otherwise fascinating, easy to read book.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Social science done right.,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Rise of Christianity (Paperback)If one wants to understand the rise of Christianity this book does a masterful job of explicating this as a process without belittling the religion as a religion. If one wants to understand the process of doing good social science this book is also very useful. Stark makes skillful use of a number of methods but never loses sight of his problem. By contrast, far too much of the research I read either lacks any methodological sophistication at all or is so focused on the technique that it loses the point in the mess of details. I would like to use this book in a methodology of the social sciences class as an illustration of what is possible given some fairly simple methods that are taught to most first year graduate students (or even undergraduates), but, most of all--and hardest of all--intense clarity of thought and careful reflection on the problem at hand.
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Read,
This review is from: The Rise of Christianity (Paperback)A great introduction to how Christianity spread so quickly. It takes real data and gives thoughtful theory.
Useful book for anyone interested in history, sociology and theology.
5.0 out of 5 stars Originally Christianity grew decade on decade,
This review is from: The Rise of Christianity (Paperback)Despite occasional misunderstandings of New Testament quotations for which he relies on others for exegesis this is a brilliant & stimulating book. Compiles from an original series of essays it shows an understanding of the culture of the Roman Empire and of the implications for the growth of the church. And as a mathematician I can only applaud his grasp of the significance of "compound interest" in the growth of the church !
5.0 out of 5 stars A sociologist's fascinating perspective on the rise of the Jesus movement,
This review is from: The Rise of Christianity (Paperback)This is a really interesting sociological perspective on how Christianity became so successful from such unpromising beginnings in the Roman Empire. Stark's essential message is that Christianity succeeded because it was a better organised, better motivated and more open community than anything else `paganism' or the various cult religions could offer - though he acknowledges the competition was often stiff. Some of the aspects he considers in establishing his thesis are unusual. For example, he argues that Christian responses to major epidemics - staying to care for the sick rather than fleeing the cities - impressed and won converts. Equally, the orderliness of Christian communities in the midst of urban chaos, and especially attitudes towards human life - a distaste for abortion and the otherwise widely-practised female infanticide, as well as a higher status for women than was common - predisposed it to success and numerical growth. Even Christian attitudes to martyrdom, much less frequent an occurrence than might be suspected, could be explained as a thoroughly rational choice that brought rewards (and so attracted converts), both material and spiritual.
There's a lot here, then, that can enhance our understanding of the attractiveness of early Christianity, and hence explain its expansion. Stark shows clearly that growth through persuasive, personal contact rather than mass conversion, can satisfactorily account for the enormous numerical increase in the number of believers up to the end of the fourth century. I wouldn't necessarily agree with all he says, however. He argues, for example, that Christianity can be explained as cult-like (and therefore widely attractive to the intellectually curious) as opposed to sect-like (and therefore attractive only to those on the margins of an existing orthodoxy) on the basis of belief in resurrection as discontinuous with Judaism. But this seems to ignore evidence of diversity, of shades of belief in resurrection, in 1st-century Judaism. Again, the idea that the new faith grew mainly among diaspora Jews/'Godfearers' until comparatively late also ignores seeming evidence of the divergence between Judaism and Christianity much earlier - by the end of the second Jewish war in 135 AD (on this, see for example James Dunn's `The Partings of the Ways'. But while Stark admits he may not be fully conversant with the theology of early Christianity, his theses are nevertheless fascinating, and provide plenty of supporting evidence to explain the faith's seemingly miraculous rise in the first few centuries of its existence.
7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning, science-based portrait of early Christianity,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Rise of Christianity (Paperback)Accused of superstitious atheism, and persecuted to the death, early Christians overcame all challenges to overwhelm the pagan world with superior morality and ethical behavour. Rodney Stark combines historical evidence with current sociological theory to explain how. Chapters on the mission to the Jewish diaspora, the role of women in the early church, how social networks functioned during epidemics, and the rationality of martyrdom demonstrate the deeply transforming nature of the Christian religion on Greco-Roman civilization. For anyone who wonders what difference Christianity made in the beginning, and what difference it can make today, this book is a must read.
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The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark (Paperback - 26 Mar 1997)
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