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Rodney Stark's One True Vision:
retrograde historiography and the
academic study of religion
Michael P. Carroll



Dean, Faculty of Arts/Professor of Sociology , Wilfrid Laurier
University , Waterloo , Ontario , Canada
Published online: 31 Jan 2012.

To cite this article: Michael P. Carroll (2012) Rodney Stark's One True Vision: retrograde
historiography and the academic study of religion, Religion, 42:1, 105-125, DOI:
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Vol. 42, No. 1, January 2012, 105–125

Rodney Stark’s One True Vision: retrograde
historiography and the academic study of religion

Michael P. Carroll*

Downloaded by [] at 02:36 29 October 2014

Dean, Faculty of Arts/Professor of Sociology, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario,
ABSTRACT Although Rodney Stark is best known for his work on religious
economies, he has recently turned his attention to the social effects of monotheism. If we look carefully on the theoretical trajectory evident in this recent work,
what we find is a social-evolutionary approach to religion that was prevalent in
the 19th century, but long ago assumed by most academics to be discredited.
Furthermore, as becomes increasingly evident going through this series, the particular social-evolutionary sequence that Stark constructs has been shaped by a
vision of Protestant triumphalism, and a privileging of evangelical Protestantism, that also belongs to an earlier time. While it would easy to ignore Stark’s
work (and the last two books in this series do seem to have been ignored in academic circles), there are reasons (which include the popular appeal of his work
and his treatment of Islam) for taking his work seriously.

current situation of religious studies; history of religious studies;

For nearly half a century, Rodney Stark has been well known to anyone involved
with the academic study of religion in the English-speaking world. Partly this is
because his work with Charles Glock in the 1960s, which called attention to important differences between denominations that were usually lumped together in a
single ‘Protestant’ category in social-science surveys, is still regarded as foundational (Moberg 2008). Partly as well, Stark is known for his work with John
Lofland (Lofland and Stark 1965) on the rise of new religious movements, which
argued – among other things – that having ‘affective ties’ with existing members
(i.e., ties based on family relationship or friendship) was typically more important
than ‘belief’ in determining who joined these movements. Stark has also won
praise, mainly from people trained in schools of theology (see for example Bell
[2005]) for calling attention to the emphasis on undermining and discrediting religious belief that seems latent in much existing scholarship on religion.
But for the most part, Stark’s prominence results from the fact that during the
1980s and 1990s he and a variety of associates used rational-choice theory to
develop the ‘theory of religious economies’ that will be familiar to the readers of
this journal. Although that theory, and in particular that theory’s claim that

ISSN 0048-721X print/ISSN 1096-1151 online/12/010105–21 © 2012 Taylor & Francis

etc (see Stark 2008 for an overview of these studies). I will be arguing that there are solid reasons why we cannot afford the luxury of doing that. 620). given Stark’s centrality to that particular debate. utilizing contemporary survey data (mainly using American samples). In the same period. at least if we are concerned with the link between religion and the moral order (and he was). it still is (see for example Aarts et al. however. Carroll religious competition and plurality leads to higher rates of religious participation. Stark moved from the University of Washington (where he had taught for decades) to Baylor University. Stark has increasingly projected a distinctively evangelical version of Protestant triumphalism onto the historical record that severely distorts that record and that precludes interpretative possibilities that are otherwise quite plausible. Skerkat and Ellison (1999) described the scholarly debate over this theory to be the single most visible debate in the sociology of religion. by contrast. for example. then. this emphasis upon the centrality of a belief in gods became an emphasis on monotheism specifically. he argued that the sociological study of religion long ago took a wrong step when ‘Durkheim and the other early functionalists (including Robertson Smith and Malinowski) dismissed gods as unimportant window-dressing. In One . which demonstrate that evangelicals are not as different from other religious groups as the media suggests. has attracted (and still attracts) much criticism. that there seem to be social advantages to religious belief. Stark has supplemented his continuing concern with the theory of religious economies with something else. [2010]). while it is easy to ignore Stark’s recent work (and certainly many scholars have done just that). a private Baptist University in Waco Texas. and given the continuing visibility of his earlier work(s). More specifically. with Byron Johnson. God stuff A distinctive feature of Stark’s more recent work is that beliefs about god have become increasingly central to his thinking about religion. though.P. In Stark (2001a). For now. Finally. that rational-choice theories continue to explain much about religion. and for many sociologists. In Stark’s view. Hardly surprising. That something else is a series of books that collectively develop (though I doubt Stark would use this label) ‘a social evolutionary’ perspective that provides an overview of different world religions across time and space. What I want to do in this essay is to take a close look at this recent work in order to trace out a troubling theoretical trajectory that erodes distinctions and conceptualizations that would otherwise be seen as foundational in the scientific study of religion.Downloaded by [88. we have to make beliefs about gods central to the theories we develop about religion. stressing instead that rites and rituals are the fundamental stuff of religion’ (p. I will be arguing that in what can only be described as an instance of regressive historiography. where he became co-director. At the ISR Stark has worked with a number of colleagues to produce studies. Over the past decade.195] at 02:36 29 October 2014 106 M. let’s start at the beginning.8. that he was elected President of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in 2004. there is no denying that it has been influential. of the Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR). In that same year (2004). Very quickly.89. Randall Collins (1997) lauded the theory of religious economies as ‘a landmark in the sociology of religion’ just as works by Weber and Durkheim had been landmarks in an earlier period.

it should be noted that outside of Sociology (and so in areas where the cumulative weight of Stark’s sociological works likely mattered less) Stark tended to be ignored. American historians (and Americans generally) have always argued that one of the greatest strengths of the federalist form of government developed and instituted by the Founding Fathers was a system of ‘checks and balances’ that divided power among different branches of government.Downloaded by [88.8. in what is clearly a nod to the theory of religious economies. Mexico (where we are told – without citation – that ‘Protestant converts still risk being murdered in the more remote villages’ [p. 20– 22). For example. The American Historical Review. for example. most of his discussion of mass mobilization in this book involves examples from these traditions. Christian and Islamic traditions. that is. a tolerance for other faiths (even for other monotheistic faiths). Given Stark’s scholarly credentials in sociology. he argues (pp. Ammerman (2002) saw Stark as emphasizing the importance of social networks in promoting religious growth. the violence that might otherwise flow from the logic of monotheism can be moderated or even eliminated. he goes on to argue that under culturally sanctioned conditions of religious pluralism. with the result that no one branch could dominate the other (see for example Henretta. Stark is clear in noting that the emphasis on exclusivity in the monotheistic traditions can lead to violence. people prefer a god who is rational. will develop when ‘power is sufficiently diffused among a set of competitors that conflict is not in anyone’s interest’ (p. well. Thus he argues that civility. saw many of the arguments in One True God as deriving from rational choice theory. the God who appears in the Jewish. Miller and Aaron [1967]) In the last chapter of One True God. Carroll 1996. The fact that this structural condition prevails among religions in the United States but rarely elsewhere is – for Stark – why the US has not experienced the sort of religious-violence experiences in the Sudan. which had reviewed Stark’s work on religion in the early American republic (Finke . Previous commentators (Alles 2009. especially in regard to the theory of religious economies. has been pervaded and shaped by a distinctively American cultural ethos. for example. 257]). responsive and dependable like. Mirola (2002) and Johnson (2003). Simpson 1990) have already noted that Stark’s ‘general’ theorizing about religion. and hardly surprising as well that most of these reviewers stressed the theoretical continuities with Stark’s earlier (and highly visible) work in sociology. Since. however. Stark in effect borrows this ‘checks and balances’ model from the political realm and makes it one of the great strengths of the American religious system. and spends a significant section of the book discussing outbursts of collective violence against Jews in both Christian and Moslem societies. Hofstadter. On the other hand. the Balkans. His core claim was that the exclusive nature of the relationship that exists between God and believers in a monotheistic tradition lays the foundation for mass mobilization around a variety of issues (like missionization) in a way that is far less likely in non-monotheistic religions. And the evidence for this? The experience in the United States. an argument that he had made forcefully in his earlier work on the rise of Christianity (Stark 1996). David and Dumenil [2006].195] at 02:36 29 October 2014 Religion 107 True God (2001b) Stark looked at the ‘historical consequences of monotheism’ (the subtitle to the book). it is hardly surprising that One True God was well reviewed in sociological journals. etc. That trend continues in this more recent work. 222).89. In his final chapter.

however. It opens up new research paths. For the Glory of God (2003). Although Stark himself mainly cites his own work in support of this last claim. Greeley and Hout [2006]). What I want to call attention to here. careful attention to the logic of Stark’s argument reveals that far from being innovative and creative. are the groups whom Stark sees as promoting these stereotypes about evangelicals and fundamentalists) are the real threat to the system of pluralistic tolerance that makes the US religious system so wonderful. remember. (p.Downloaded by [88. much evidence has been brought forward that does undermine common stereotypes of evangelical and fundamentalism Protestant (see in particular Gallagher [2003]. but also in establishing a powerful link between theory and data. Stark’s book has the extraordinary merit not only of shedding light on difficult and complex social issues. and its argument. ignored One True God. could compliment Stark for his ‘creativity’ and could recommend For The Glory of God because ‘it injects new energy and evidence into old but significant discussion about the historical importance of religious belief’. Stark’s next book. (3) witch hunts. in other words. this devaluation of religious liberals. Carroll and Stark 1992) and his work on the rise of Christianity (Stark 1996). and writers in the secular press have directed against evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants. . (p. 251–256) in which he rails against the ‘libels’ that liberal clergy. mainly because Stark was seen as once again bringing a new perspective on old issues. and (4) the eventual abolition of slavery. entirely equivalent to fantasies concerning Jewish conspiracies or orgies in Catholic convents’ (p. The book. for example suggested: What is most thought provoking about the book is his reversal of Durkheim’s perspective on religion … For the Glory of God challenges numerous assumptions about how religion interacts with society. it is certainly true that since the publication of One True God. Stark takes issue with claims implying that that evangelical and fundamentalism Protestants are ‘stupid. And yet. ignorant and dangerous’ and argues that ‘competent social scientists know that these [claims] are lies. 410) Another (Rios 2004) was even more effusive: For the Glory of God is a deep and fascinating contribution to the sociology of religion.195] at 02:36 29 October 2014 108 M.89. his argument is really quite old and stale. In particular. crazy. Generally. is a section of Stark’s last chapter (pp. 254). As we shall see. 301) Even an historian like Dana Robert (2004). will be subject to much discussion.P. mainly because it is so strongly related to themes that would appear in subsequent books. who found Stark’s argument to be simplistic.8. One reviewer (Petersen 2005). this book too was relatively well received. purports to demonstrate how Christian monotheism was instrumental in giving rise to four historical processes in the West: (1) the reforming impulse that culminated in the Reformation. In the end. liberal theologians. and implicit privileging of fundamentalist and evangelical Protestantism. however. is an important part of a message that has become increasingly central to Stark’s work. the logic of his overall argument is suggesting that non-believers and liberal Protestants and Catholics (who. is that in this section Stark over and over again labels the stereotypical statements made about fundamentalists and evangelicals to be instances of incivility. What needs to be emphasized. (2) the rise of modern science.

for example. in the Protestant worldview. originally published in 1563. it should. the fact that this reformist emphasis gained more and more popular support with each passing century made the Reformation itself inevitable. Stark (pp. Christianity was originally a pristine religion. very early in the book (p. 117). 41–46). Central to this view was the belief that the Reformation was the culmination of reformist movements that had built up slowly but cumulatively over the centuries in reaction to clerical corruption and to those encrustations (the worship of Mary and the Saints. This is the distinction between the ‘Church of Power’ (more or less. it has been projected by proxy onto other traditions. interiorized religion had long warped – and continues to warp – the study of the Roman mystery cults with which early Christianity was often contrasted. In any event. 590–591). 53–68) mimics Foxe (and other Protestant historians) by running through a list of reformers and reform movements (including the Cathars. By . If all this seems familiar. the Beghards and Beguines. the Waldensians. with an emphasis on Protestant triumphalism. In this view of things. Philip Almond (1988) has shown how this same narrative shaped the academic perception of Buddhism in Victorian England. Although the Degradation Narrative was initially only a Protestant view of Christian history. Stark makes a distinction that is central to the argument he builds throughout the book. The great achievement of the Reformation (in this narrative) is that it restored Christianity to its initial pristine condition. to his study of Christianity). his account of Christian reform is a fairly straightforward version of what Carroll (2007: 93–95) has called the Degradation Narrative that was for centuries the hallmark of Protestant historiography. Norman Girardot (2002: 86–89. etc. the Degradation Narrative was typically paired. but over time became encrusted with a number of magical and sacramental processes under the influence of a corrupt clergy. Thus. etc.195] at 02:36 29 October 2014 Religion 109 Thus.) that had distorted the message of early Christianity. and influential. Wyclif and the Lollards. John Foxe’s massive.89. At least up until the 1960s. not an apologist for any particular religious viewpoint. John Hus. at least in accounts of Christian reform written by historians. Acts and Monuments (1965). by which Stark means ‘those who were still committed to the moral vision of early Christianity’. What Stark has done is to resuscitate the Degradation Narrative by once again making it central to the study of Christianity (or at least. 318–319.) in order to establish that indeed ‘the Church of Piety had been trying to achieve a reformation for many centuries’ (p.8.Downloaded by [88. He then goes on to argue that over the centuries the Church of Power became increasingly corrupt. the institutionalized hierarchy of the Church) and the ‘Church of Piety’. very much centered on an interiorized religiosity and concerned with otherworldly salvation. 40). pilgrimages. demonstrates how this narrative was projected onto the study of Chinese religion in the 19th century. Although Stark routinely emphasizes that he is a social scientist. His evidence for this corruption consists almost entirely in a litany of anecdotes detailing the sexual misadventures of succession of popes (see pp. and Jonathan Smith (1990) has argued that the impulse to construct early Christianity as a pristine. One consequence of this old historiographical emphasis on a slow but cumulative ‘building up’ of reformist impulse in European societies was a historiographical predisposition to focus on individuals and movements who could be viewed a ‘precursors’ to the Reformation. is likely the most well known English language example of this type of Protestant literature.

P. In Stark’s own words (p. and he is careful (pp. their criticisms of the Church and of religion . In any number of works. impulse to restore a corrupted Christianity to its earlier pristine state. In his review of For the Glory of God. 75–79) concedes all this. Erasmus was quick to condemn clerical corruption. But Stark’s resuscitation of the Degradation Narrative and Protestant Triumphalism favored by earlier generations of Protestant historians is not the only instance of historiographical regression in his work. remember. 143). The fact remains. given his historiographical emphasis on Protestant triumphalism. – and in his discussion of Erasmus (and humanist reformers generally) Stark (pp. although different 19th-century theorists posited different evolutionary sequences. 40). or simply ignore material. Grand ethnography Stark’s recent work also very much resembles the sort of ‘grand ethnography’ (the term is from Connell [1997]) that was typical of 19th-century social-evolutionary theorizing. what all theorists in the ‘grand ethnography’ tradition had in common was: (1) a tendency to ransack the historical record for bits and pieces of information that could be used to describe each of the stages posited in the particular social evolutionary sequence they favored. How then to deal with Erasmus and his fellow humanists? Answer: make Erasmus a religious reformer not really concerned with religion. and giving them a common goal (‘reformation’). Stark is well aware that Protestantism did not triumph in all areas of Europe. and I want to discuss two of them briefly. however. he is homogenizing what otherwise would be considered a diverse group in order to strengthen the same impression that Foxe sought to create: the building inevitability of the Reformation. I am by no means the first person to suggest the latter. is that Erasmus did not break with the Church. but renders suspect his triumphalist tone’ (p. Their personal faith often seems hollow.Downloaded by [88. some.89. is a commitment to ‘the moral vision of early Christianity. The problem for Stark. But there are other instances in which Stark explains away evidence that does not fit his version of grand ethnography. that didn’t quite fit the sequence they were promoting. Carroll characterizing these groups collectively as ‘the Church of Piety’ (whose defining characteristic. perhaps. Robbins (2005) noted that Stark’s explicit decision to exclude the Peasant’s Revolt or the Anabaptist movement from consideration in his discussion of Protestant success ‘makes for a clean and coherent sociological theory. Thus. perhaps most of the leading Biblical Humanists of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries were probably less than sincere. 76): However. etc.8. that for Stark. The first concerns what might be called the ‘Erasmus problem’ for Stark. the cult of the saints. and (2) an equally strong tendency to explain away. for instance. 103–119) to outline the conditions which facilitated or hindered Protestant success in particular areas. and centuries old. popular credulity and a range of practices and beliefs having to do with relics. but in particular in Praise of Folly (1971 [1511]) and in Pilgrimage for Religion’s Sake (1997 [1526]). the Reformation was the end result of a constantly building.’ p. pilgrimages.195] at 02:36 29 October 2014 110 M. as for those earlier generations of Protestant historians who embraced the Degradation Narrative and Protestant triumphalism.

the suggestion that Erasmus was skeptical and not really religious is not new. but rather the sort of religion which Stark’s critique of Erasmus implicitly privileges. he requested a dispensation to live in the world and to wear lay clothing. and then by describing the ways in which ‘Crown and Parliament combined to initiate the English Reformation’ (p. Desiderius Erasmus (1469–1536). . is that although he clearly embraced a deeply interiorized religiosity. 87–92).89. and that he ‘was always careful to stay on the good side of Rome. 91). 91) in the context of a ‘conflict between the Church and the English Crown that had been intensifying for many years’ (p. After all. is that Erasmus never embraced the sort of high-tension. Still. he was clearly not the sort of proto-Methodist or proto-Baptist that he needed to be in order to ‘fit’ with the specific notion of reform that underlies the social evolutionary sequence that Stark is describing. and many of them greatly valued form over content … These aspects of Humanism – snobbery and skepticism – were exemplified by the most famous Humanist of them all. So: why then is it so important to Stark to dissociate Erasmus (the individual) from the building process of reform that Stark is describing? The answer. then by discussing how Protestantism entered England through mercantile links with the Continent. as Cameron (1996) points out (p. So: Erasmus has to be explained away. he was nevertheless committed to a very individualized type of piety centered on the figure of Christ and emphasizing interiorized prayer aimed directly to God. in other words. Not content to simply label Erasmus as insincere in his religiosity. This discussion proceeds by first mentioning that the Lollards prepared the way for Lutheranism.’ At one level.195] at 02:36 29 October 2014 often seem too viciously gleeful. Still. what’s most important here is not so much that Stark (once again) shows no awareness of modern scholarship on the subject he’s discussing. in-your-face. what does Stark see as the major cause of the Reformation in England? Simply: it was the ‘great popular appeal of Protestant Reforms’ (p. education and pacifism. I suggest. when all is said and done. careful analysis of Erasmus’s life and work by modern scholars (see for example Halkin [1987]) suggests that while he did seek to avoid institutional entanglements and was ruthless in satirizing what he considered superstitions. it was a charge that Erasmus’s critics – both Catholic and Lutheran – leveled at him in his own time. 89). 76–78) to further denigrate Erasmus by calling attention to the fact that although Erasmus had entered the Augustinian order. that he earned large royalties from his writings. religion that in his earlier writing Stark has consistently argued is the sort of faith associated with the highest levels of religious commitment in an unregulated religious economy (see especially Finke and Stark [1992]).Religion 111 Downloaded by [88. Stark goes on (pp. Nevertheless. Erasmus’s own critiques fit well with the Degradation Narrative.8. Mansfield’s (2010) overview of Erasmian scholarship over the course of the 20th century suggests that one of the hallmarks of this body of work is an increasing appreciation of Erasmus’s individualized piety and of the fit between such piety and Erasmus’s dedication to reason. 128). statements like these must inevitably raise red flags. To anyone familiar with the historiography of the English Reformation. Erasmus’s misfortune. and he is. Indeed. My second example involves Stark’s discussion of the Reformation in England (pp.

with the result that in the same year that Stark published For the Glory of God.G. Carroll Downloaded by [88. that the English Church was almost uniquely fortunate in western Europe with the quality and commitment of its bishops and clergy. Starting in the 1970s. 724) and that the focus of English historiography has shifted to confront the obvious puzzle: if Catholicism was thriving and there was little initial popular support for Protestantism. I should note here that Stark does cite Duffy (1992) in some of his footnotes – which means.8. this revisionist position became the dominant position among English historians. however. Let me be clear: there’s nothing amiss in challenging prevailing accounts of any particular phenomena. 1) It is difficult to imagine an account of the English Reformation that is so much the polar opposite of Stark’s. He simply and quite uncritically presents the older Protestant triumphalist view and takes no notice of the historical evidence amassed by revisionist scholars that attests to the vitality of late medieval Catholicism in England – notwithstanding the strong visibility of this revisionist scholarship in all serious discussions of the English Reformation from the late 1980s onward. Very quickly. In the remainder of For the Glory of God.89.J. and continuing into the 1980s and early 1990s.112 M. and poured considerable resources into their parish churches. Christopher Haigh (1987.P. this view came increasingly to be discredited. (p. whose major works appeared initially in the 1950s and 1960s and who in most overviews of the revisionist tradition is usually regarded at the last serious proponent of Protestant triumphalism. historians have regularly observed that the Tudor monarchs were on notably good terms with the papacy. the one English historian mentioned most often by name in the main body of Stark’s text is A. Stark’s account of the English Reformation. Peter Marshall (2003) could begin his text on Reformation England with: Since at least the mid-1970s. but that’s not what Stark did here. Scarisbrick (1984). I suggest. In an even more recent overview of English historiography Duffy (2006) notes that ‘the broad outlines of the revisionist account of the Reformation has been accepted and absorbed into school and university courses’ (p.195] at 02:36 29 October 2014 Up until the 1980s. 1993) and Eamon Duffy (1992) – brought forward an immense amount of evidence which established fairly conclusively that popular Catholicism in England was thriving on the eve of the Reformation and that earlier accounts had grossly exaggerated anti-clerical sentiment. Stark links Christian monotheism to a number of other events. that Stark ransacked Duffy’s book for bits and pieces of evidence to support his theory while ignoring the fact that Duffy himself felt the evidence in his book undermined the very sort of Protestant triumphalism that Stark is promoting. was woefully out of touch with existing scholarship and (yet again) very much a throwback to an earlier era. in other words. A number of writers – but notably J. the prevailing view of the Reformation in England was indeed a Protestant triumphalist view that stressed – as does Stark – the great popular appeal of Protestantism and widespread anti-clericalism. why did England become a Protestant nation? Duffy then goes on to review some of the better-known attempts to answer this question. Dickens. Interestingly. and that English lay (non-clerical) people participated with enthusiasm and sacraments. including the rise of modern science (modern science arose only in the West because only in Christianity do we encounter one God .

according to Stark. capitalism and Western success. the abolition of slavery. freedom. Basically. like Islam and Judaism? Stark repeats here much the same argument he made in connection with the rise of modern science. progress in high art. and over time (sometimes a long time!) this impels Christian societies toward all the things that Stark discusses in this book (technological innovation. the impulse toward progress that is latent in the logic of Christian monotheism led first to the emergence of European capitalism and then (centuries later) to Protestantism. he summarizes his explanation of why capitalism emerged only in Europe this way: Why did things turn out differently in Europe? Because of the Christian commitment to rational theology – something that may have played a major role in causing the Reformation but that surely predated Protestantism by far more than a millennium. (p.’ And what is it about Christian monotheism that sets it apart from other monotheisms. the rise of modern science. then. the Christian conception of God promotes the view that there is always more and more to be discovered about the universe created by God. Phrased differently still. although Stark has positive things to say about Christianity (in general) and Catholicism. Stark’s argument privileges Protestantism because that argument sees Protestantism as one of the many progressive advances (like Western success. capitalism. Stark is at pains to say that unlike Weber. etc. and the abolition of slavery (only the logic of Christian monotheism creates the moral predisposition to abolish slavery).195] at 02:36 29 October 2014 Progress resumed For the next book in this series Stark chose a title that makes the social-evolutionary flavor of his argument especially blatant: The Victory of Reason (2005). Here again though. in his Introduction. in this schema. and consistent with the argument made in One True God. he first wonders .Religion 113 who is seen to have created the universe according to immutable principles that can be discovered).89. Stark devotes the bulk of this book to expanding the list of Western accomplishments that he sees as deriving from the logic of Christian monotheism. 103–127) to showing that capitalism arose in Catholic societies long before the Reformation. Nor does Stark see the process of religious evolution he is describing to be at an end.8. as in his previous books.) that have emerged out of the logic of Christian monotheism. is once again just a social evolutionary way station on the road to Protestantism. On the contrary. xiii) In other words. In the final two pages (pp. His subtitle is a good summary of what he intends to show: ‘How Christianity led to freedom. witchcraft persecutions (conflict between competing versions of monotheism reduces tolerance of non-conforming belief). In these first two books. This is easiest seen in his discussion of capitalism. the logic of his argument privileges Protestantism. Catholicism. Basically. Stark is advancing nothing less than the claim that Christian monotheism is responsible for the advance of Western civilization and the superiority of Western society over non-Western societies. Downloaded by [88. Still.). a subject that takes up almost half of his text. he devotes an entire chapter (pp. 234–235) of The Victory of Reason. etc. he does not see Protestantism per se as having given rise to capitalism.

(p. …This view is of course. what is it that ‘draws out’ – and is continuing to draw out – the increasing emphasis on rationality and other good things that Stark sees to be latent in the logic of Christian monotheism? Nineteenth-century theorists. He goes on to argue that recent research into the ‘origins and cultural evolution of the world’s great religions’ is ‘remarkably inferior because so few authors could restrain their militant atheism’ (p. While acknowledging that Christianity might be appealing for a variety of reasons. What is it for Stark? The answer to that question is to be found in the most problematic book in the series we’re considering. which holds that God’s revelations are always limited to the current capacity of humans to comprehend. of all Judeo-Christian premises.8. very quickly becomes (for Stark) nothing less than an explanatory tool for understanding the evolution of all religions across time and space. each did tend to favor one motive element over others as the driving force behind social evolution. for Marx and Engels. The only point I want to make is that this principle. becoming a Christian is intrinsic to becoming modern. though first introduced simply as a Judeo-Christian belief. In his own words: ‘The principle of divine accommodation provides a truly remarkable key . 1). yet remarkably neglected.P. Stark introduces what will eventually become one of this book’s most important organizing principles: This line of thought [Augustine on Scripture] is entirely consistent with one of the most fundamental. faced the same type of question. Carroll aloud if modernization is still linked to Christianity and then gives the answer: yes. for Durkheim.114 M. changes in the means for production. is certainly that it is a ticket to Western success. The evidence? Simply: Christianity is spreading rapidly in non-Western societies. Although none of those theorists was truly monocausal. it was population growth occasioned by military conquest and/or natural increase. For many non-Europeans. In his own words. (p.89. etc. he argues. emphasis in original) Readers can decide for themselves if the principle that Stark is enunciating is truly as fundamental a ‘Judeo-Christian’ premise as he claims.195] at 02:36 29 October 2014 another significant factor is its appeal to reason and the fact that it is so inseparably linked to the rise of Western Civilization. in constructing their own social-evolutionary schemes. after briefly discussing Augustine’s position on Scripture. The fact that Stark constructs the social-evolutionary process he is describing as ongoing raises a theoretical question: what is fueling that process? In other worlds. For Spencer. Taking God as an independent variable Stark begins Discovering God (2007) with a simple sentence: ‘Since I was very young I have often wondered about God’ (p. one of them. 1). that of Divine Accommodation. increases in moral density. 235) Although he does make a passing reference to an increase in the number of Roman Catholics in Africa. firmly rooted in scripture. A few pages later. within the logic of his argument. 6. Downloaded by [88. most of the examples he mentions in discussing the rising popularity of Christianity in the non-Western world involve Protestant denominations and Protestant traditions. it is.

Christianity changed when it became the official religion of the Empire and entered into a monopoly situation. But if God exists. there is nothing inherently problematic in trying to show the universal applicability of what is supposedly a general theory. Although I suspect that there is much in Stark’s discussion of non-Christian religions that would be challenged by specialists. Remember that Stark is not talking here about what ordinary Christians might believe to make miracles plausible. after the now-familiar discussion designed to establish that Durkheim and a host of other earlier theorists had it wrong and that gods are central to what religion is all about. Much of what remains in this particular chapter reprises and then builds upon arguments that Stark has made in earlier publications (such as Stark [1996]) about Roman religion and the rise of Christianity. is in the last quarter of the book (p. and (3) high-tension religion sells best. He is talking about the plausibility of miracles. To make miracles plausible. Stark considers a dizzying array of case studies. Surely a God who created the natural laws could suspend them at will … So. (p. Discovering God is almost entirely about religion itself.Downloaded by [88. 7) – and using this key to do just that is what Discovering God is all about. In each case. Buddhism. the more neutral ‘Monopoly and Change’) at the beginning of his discussion of the . and perhaps not. He starts by noting that some scholars have used the mention of miracles in the Gospel narratives as the basis for discrediting those narratives. nothing more. these case studies establish that: (1) religious monopolies promote clerical laxity and low levels of popular participation. was Lazarus raised from the dead? Perhaps. Taoism. Basically: Christianity flourished because it was a high-tension sect that did well in the relatively open religious economy of the Roman Empire. The fact that he uses the heading ‘Monopoly and Decline’ (rather than. appears in the discussion of miracles (pp. One of the first signs that Stark will be developing an argument that is just a bit unusual. Did the resurrection occur? It could have. he could have been. Was Mary a virgin? She could have been. In his own words: Both approaches to miracles are equally absurd. The second group are those people who see miracles as the misperception of entirely natural events. Unlike the other books in this series. Naturally. in Stark’s reconstruction of the historical record. He holds little regard for either view. emphases in original) This is a truly remarkable passage. this is simple ‘ignorance’ (his term) and he goes on to identify two groups here. including: the religions of ancient Mesopotamia. 284–285) that forms part of his chapter on the rise of Christianity. 285.195] at 02:36 29 October 2014 Religion 115 for completely reappraising the origins and history of religions’ (p. (2) religious plurality leads to competition. 282 ff). Roman religion. Where Stark’s argument does become problematic. Thus. Hinduism.8.89. For Stark. all that is needed is to postulate the existence of a God who created the universe. for Stark. In other words. at least in social-scientific circles. and for Stark what makes them plausible is the existence of God. which are mostly about the things brought into existence by the unique logic of Christianity. Mayan and Aztec religion. he argues that the historical record is best understood using the theory of religious economies. The first are those ‘militant atheists’ (Stark seems never to have met an atheist who wasn’t militant) who ridicule miracles on the grounds they are violations of natural law and so impossible. say. however. Confucianism and other Chinese religions.

We also know that ‘when the common people did show up in church they often misbehaved’ (p. 329). and those that seem not to have been inspired. authentic religions [emphasis added] should reveal an increasingly sophisticated and complex understanding of God – they should form a developmental or evolutionary sequence. Stark has to be quoted to appreciate the sheer enormity of what he is saying: It is all well and good to suppose that God limits his revelations to the prevailing level of human understanding. (p. This means. As a result. 390). Ordered as to when they appeared. once Christianity became the official state religion. ‘assumes that God reveals himself’ (p. the answer must be ‘no’ (p. Granted that variations can arise … but there should still be substantial compatibility among any religions that are based on divine inspirations. And the third criterion? The third criterion is progressive complexity. the measures that Stark has used to measure religiosity (and uses again here). Here again. 329) and a substantial proportion of medieval society failed to attend church at all unless ‘ordered to do so by their lord’ (p.8.Downloaded by [88. sons of the aristocracy flooded into the priesthood in order to ‘pursue luxury and ease’ (p. 391) In other words. 329). starting from the premise that there really is only one God out there (up there?). 390). Stark then tells us: I suggest three criteria by which it is possible to separate faiths into those that could reflect actual divine inspiration in that they increased our understanding of God. though. 391). In the end. 391) Of course the use of a descriptor like ‘authentic’ in this context only reinforces what should now be clear: Stark’s analysis suggests that the God he is describing does exist and religions which have a direct connection with this particular God are . interiorized fervor and regular attendance at formal church services. 390). that religions whose founders did not claim divine revelation ‘lacked the means to contribute to the discovery of God’ (p. He then poses the question ‘have all religions contributed to the discovery of God?’ (p. 390) and in the next sentence gives his answer: ‘Assuming for the moment that God exists. 390. namely. (p. Carroll post-Constantine Church (p. As has been noted before (Carroll [1996]. In Stark’s account. to which he turns in his Conclusion.89. in the good old-fashioned sense of that word. In a section headed ‘Criteria of Divine inspiration’ he first rejects the ‘idea that all religions are somewhat true’ (p.P. emphasis added) And what are the three criteria that we can all use to separate the religions of the world into those that tell us something about God and those that do not? ‘The first criterion. then he (and this one God is always ‘he’ in Stark’s discussion) would of course be consistent in revealing his message to people in different cultures and different times. Stark – like past scholars caught in the rigid grip of an oldfashioned Protestant historiography – is concerned with progression toward ‘truth’ and so it is to the matter of religious truth. (p. see also Sommerville [2002]).195] at 02:36 29 October 2014 116 M. 329) rather than to promote piety. rests upon an implicitly Protestant notion of piety that misses much about the lived experience of Catholicism during the medieval and modern periods. for Stark.’ we’re told. 327) signals to the reader that his account is once more being shaped by the Degradation Narrative. but it is not plausible to suppose that his revelations are utterly contradictory. ‘Christian fervor was allowed to wither’ (p. The second criterion is consistency.

Stark’s emphasis on a transcendent God who sends messages that progressively reveal more and more about his intent and nature to human beings would seem to be a textbook example of what both Tracy and Greeley take to be the worldview that proceeds from the Protestant Imagination. given that most Christians tend to see the ‘New Testament’ as a divinely inspired advance over the ‘Old Testament.89. And Islam? Sorry. Having introduced these three criteria. though of course ‘Christianity epitomizes revealed religion and offers a substantially more complex and nuanced vision of God as is appropriate for a faith that fulfills the Old Testament and presents a more comprehensive doctrine of salvation’ (p. Judaism. Stark concludes that it would be ‘inappropriate to include Islam in the inspired core of faiths’ (p. The evangelical tradition. Allah is too unpredictable and unknowable within the Islamic tradition. to the sacred) by involvement in human society (since society is pervaded by the sacred). 395). In any event. In the Catholic Imagination. by contrast. with – again – Protestant Christianity at the apex. what becomes important is the message that God sends to humanity and the ways in which human beings respond to that message. This in turn gives rise to a predisposition to ‘think about’ God using metaphors drawn from daily experience as well as a predisposition to draw closer to God (or. 395)? Presuming progressive complexity. however. then. what is most significant about this iteration of his argument is that it allows us to see even more clearly the nature of the Protestant historiographical bias that has shaped Stark’s work. Egypt. Within the logic of this worldview. The temple religions of Sumer. Religions can therefore be ordered on an evolutionary scale depending up how truly ‘inspired’ they are. though. and ‘why would God have sent a regressive message to Arab tribes that were in the process of converting to Judaism and Christianity’ (p.’ the notion of progressive revelation is to some extent shared by all Christians.8. God’s revelations should progress from the simple to the more complex’ (p. Basically: God exists and he reveals himself to humans throughout the world according to what they can understand. Zoroastrianism and Christianity do make the cut. In the end. the emphasis is on God’s transcendence and so on: the great distance between God and humanity. takes this a step further. 394).195] at 02:36 29 October 2014 Religion 117 privileged. Thus central to the evangelical narrative that developed in the 18th century was the view that God . Since ‘God reveals himself within the current limits of the human capacity to understand’ it follows that ‘over the course of history. for some time now both David Tracy (1981) and Andrew Greeley (2000) have argued that there is a fundamental difference between the Protestant Imagination and the Catholic Imagination.Downloaded by [88. more generally. on his presence in the world. 393). True. Thus. But there’s more: Stark’s particular take on progressive revelation seems borrowed. In the Protestant Imagination. For Stark this is regressive. not just from the Protestant tradition generally. the emphasis is on God’s immanence. early Rome and Mesoamerica are quickly set aside. but more specifically from the evangelical Protestant tradition. Stark goes on to quickly order all the world religions discussed in earlier chapters. what we have in this concluding chapter is an especially clear statement of the social-evolutionary schema that underlies all of the books in this series. then. Stark expands on this third criterion by linking it to the principle of divine accommodation mentioned in the Introduction. since they ‘have no place within the progressive core of inspired faiths’ (p. that is. Greece. In the end. 393).

that everything is one big.118 M. for example. meaningless accident. Carroll periodically intervened to bring Christians closer to him.8.’ and answering. had occurred at Pentecost and during the Reformation. My point is only that there is a common emphasis on direct intervention from God at well-defined points in history as the force that drives people toward a ‘better’ version of Christianity. in a section on ‘Defective Clergy’ he again excoriates the medieval clergy for their corruption. Thus. Downloaded by [88.195] at 02:36 29 October 2014 Social science as theology If Discovering God seems more like theology than sociology. I find it far more rational to regard the universe itself as the ultimate revelation of God and to agree with Kepler that in the most fundamental sense. The New Triumphalism For the most part. Stark has added a section (pp.89. Stark also repeats and updates his version of the Degradation Narrative. in the affirmative. the elimination of slavery. Stark repeats his arguments linking monotheism to the rise of capitalism. Obviously. Thus. etc. Stark’s recent work has been shaped by a number of historiographical biases that proceed ultimately from a distinctively evangelical Protestant worldview. Stark sees God as revealing more and more about the logic of Christianity. science is theology and thereby serves as another method for the discovery of God. although this time around he at least moves beyond the popes by citing Ludwig Pastor (1854–1928) as saying ‘it is a mistake to . after saying some nice things about proponents of Intelligent Design. and these historiographical biases have produced an account of religious evolution that is more reasonably seen as having been imposed on the evidence than derived from it. 54–56) asking ‘But can the Gospels be trusted. Stark would likely not disagree. evangelicals were more apt to stress spiritual awakening and the new birth made possible by an outpouring of God’s grace. recycles arguments presented in earlier books. he tells us in the last four lines of the book (p. Thus. evangelical groups believed. is that science has led him to the discovery of God’s nature. I am no longer sufficiently arrogant or gullible to make that leap of faith. One interesting difference is that this newer book has more material (pp. it seems to me. The implication is that ‘evidence’ has led Stark to the conclusions he has reached – but that is precisely what has not happened. and were occurring in their time (Lambert 1999: 23–25). 399): Why is the universe rational and orderly? It seems to me that the most remarkable ‘retreat’ from reason is to cling to the belief that the principles that underlie the universe came out of nowhere. Stark’s most recent book. as you might expect at this point. Instead. Since most of this material is derived from the Gospel accounts. The Triumph of Christianity (2011). In later chapters. What Stark is clearly saying here. the first third of this latest book draws heavily on the arguments relating to the growth of Christianity in Stark (1996). On the contrary.P. On the last page of that book. the rise of modern science. These periodic interventions. 49–54) on the person of Jesus Christ himself. the content of what God reveals at discrete point in human history is different for Stark as compared to 18th-century evangelical groups.

he presents statistics attesting to the rapid growth of Christianity throughout the world (pp. 261). But unlike Judaism and Islam. their emphasis usually is on Jesus. a very human and approachable figure … adults speak of Jesus having come into their lives. for example. and would not end the relationship because he was fond of his children. And again. he continues to see the ‘widespread immorality and indolence among the clergy at all levels’ (Stark 2011: 322) as central to this process. Christian. that religious pluralism (of the sort that emerged in the United States) promotes increased religious participation and that under conditions of such religious pluralism ‘high-tension’ religion sells best. merciful ‘being’. omnipotent. Towards the end of this book Stark (pp. is that within the logic of Stark’s cumulative argument religious evolution has reached its endpoint in Christianity. And what. who is somewhat mysterious. their “religious” beliefs were a hodge-podge of pagan. Allegations of clerical corruption aside. A bit later. he cites the fact that a priest in Southern Italy kept a concubine. But Christianity is also embraced because of its fundamental message. is that message? In his words: Like Judaism and Islam. . and in particular. in several sections. the only thing left to do is to repeat his theoretical arguments (over and over again) and to document the inevitable growth of Christianity – which is exactly what this last book does. however. at one point (p. Stark also repeats the ‘encrustation’ argument that is similarly central to the Degradation Narrative. Christianity also embraces the Son. developed most of all in Finke and Stark (1992). which is facilitated by the fact that the Gospels are the story of Jesus.8. after a discussion of medieval magic. children sing ‘Jesus loves me’ … When Christians seek to convert others. how he explains the growth of Christianity. remote and awesome. Christianity conceives of God as a transcendent. they seldom went to church. Consider. that Christianity is embraced because of its link with Western modernity. evangelical Protestantism remains the telos of the process he is describing. Partly. Given this. I suggest. for example. in the evangelical Christianity that his analysis privileges. And the underlying reason for this. and superstitious fragments. although Stark does provide data relating to the growth of both Protestantism and Catholicism. So is there anything new in this latest book? Not really. 319) lists Luther’s call for a married clergy as one of the many organizational reforms that Luther championed. so committed is Stark to the Degradation Narrative’s emphasis on clerical corruption that he seems unaware of inconsistencies in his argument. Stark (2011: 272) concludes with: ‘For the vast majority of medieval Europeans. 353–367) also repeats the argument. Thus.Downloaded by [88. 389–412). in discussing the forces that led to the Reformation. he argues (Stark 2011: 412). Later. Finally.195] at 02:36 29 October 2014 Religion 119 suppose that the corruption of the clergy was worse in Rome than elsewhere … there is documentary evidence of the immorality of the priests in every town in the Italian peninsula’ (Stark 2011: 261). Thus. contrasts ‘the Church of Power’ with the ‘Church of Piety’ and once again describes the Church of Piety’s attempts to reform the organizational Church – an effort which culminated in the Reformation.’ And Stark once again. for Stark. as he did in The Victory of Reason. and they placed greater faith in the magic of the Wise Ones than in the service of the clergy. Stark (p. as an example of clerical corruption in the Middle Ages.89. Indeed.

only reinforces this evangelical emphasis. Ancient Greece. it did re-shape earlier traditions that had been rooted in ritual and myth alone. Indeed. Basically. the motive force driving religious evolution is not direct revelation from an evangelical God.89. The only point I want to make is that his work shows how evolutionary theorizing might be used in a manner that avoids the difficulties I have identified in Stark’s theorizing. and duration to human life. He links both of these things (ritual and myth) to particular intellectual capacities which emerged during a process of human evolution. Bellah [2011]: 266) and argues that we can discern a developmental sequence. An aside: evolutionary thinking and religion It is important to point out that although Stark’s theory might be criticized for being little more than a warmed-over version of 19th-century social-evolutionary theorizing. Robert Bellah (2011) has recently developed an argument about the evolution of religion that avoids many of the difficulties implicit in Stark’s argument. Although Bellah makes use of modern (biological) evolutionary theory in coming to this conclusion. This was ‘the ability to think analytically rather than narratively. however. whereas ‘Protestant triumphalism’ used to mean a historiographical tendency to see the Reformation as inevitable. Bellah surveys the emergence and development of religion from the Paleolithic to the Axial Age (roughly. rf. he is also quite clear in acknowledging the debt he owes to the theories of cognitive development associated with Jean Piaget and Jerome Bruner (Bellah 2011: 117). The casual reference to the hymn ‘Jesus loves me.120 M. and central to its triumph. not simply to Protestantism but more specifically to evangelical Protestantism. Bellah argues that what is common to the earliest religions (that we know about) is an emphasis on mimetic behavior. Thus. to construct theories that can be criticized logically and empirically’ (Bellah 2011: 274). in Bellah’s formulation.8. (Stark 2011: 408) Downloaded by [88. Carroll And the fundamental message of the Gospels is that Christ died for our Sins. It is too soon to tell if the specifics of Bellah’s argument will be judged favorably or unfavorably by knowledgeable critics. the last half of Bellah’s book (pp. and hence all who accept Jesus as their Savior will enjoy everlasting life after death. 265–597) is taken up with showing how this capacity for analytic thought gave rise to four of the great religions of the Axial Age: the religions of Ancient Israel. for example. purpose. To take an obvious example. ‘the middle centuries of the first millennium BCE’. on the Gospels – all these emphases link what Stark sees as the essential appeal of Christianity. which usually means ritual. this is not to say that evolutionary theorizing has no place in the study of religion.’ which has always been especially popular in the Baptist tradition. Basically. that a number of developments led to the emergence of a new intellectual capacity. this I know. While this new capacity for analytic thought did not displace the older emphasis on ritual and myth. respectively. but rather the emergence of new intellectual . Ancient China and Ancient India. on accepting Jesus as your personal Savior. and on mythic narrative. what is inevitable within the logic of Stark’s theorizing is the triumph of evangelical Protestantism. He goes on to argue.195] at 02:36 29 October 2014 The emphasis here on having Jesus come into your life. Basically.P. This is the doctrine that forms the core of the Christian appeal and gives meaning.

If someone like Rodney Stark. The first two books in this series. were relatively well reviewed and well received in academic journals (see the reviews cited earlier). and related to the above. in other words. I think there are several reasons why we need to think carefully about Stark’s recent work and take it seriously. his work has likely reached a large popular audience.’ Finally. if not centuries. who was for decades such a central participant in the organizations and cultural milieu associated with the sociological study of religion in the United States. Although scholars like Robert Orsi (2004) have assured us that Protestant Christianity is ‘no longer the hidden norm of the academic study of religion. Similarly. it is still easy to catch sight of a distinctively Protestant worldview latent in a great many of the supposedly ‘generic’ measures used by academics to assess religiosity (see the discussion in Carroll [2007] for examples). the struggle to separate the academic study of religion in Western societies from its original religious underpinnings was hard fought and it took decades. academic reviews of the later books in his monotheism series are virtually non-existent. the basis for this ordering is not ‘how much a religion approximates evangelical Christianity’ but rather ‘what intellectual operations have shaped that religious tradition. but so what? Why. First. notably One True God and For the Glory of God. Taken at face value. Stark’s monotheism series is (dare I say it?) a stark reminder we cannot become complacent about the separation between religion and the academic study of religion. while Stark’s recent work may not have attracted support in the academic community. his discussion of the Axial Age does not privilege Judaism over the religions of Greece. although Bellah stops at the Axial Age (though a second book is promised). The scholarly community. and so I see nothing in Bellah’s argument that would imply (as does Stark’s argument) a privileging of Christianity. China and India. Thus.8. there seems little evidence that Stark’s latest works are having any serious influence on the academic study of religion. has embraced a retrograde historiography of religion that very significantly blurs the line between ‘religious belief’ and ‘the scientific study of religious belief. And even then. is this anything to be concerned about? After all. 399). to achieve such a separation. In this context. while it would have been hard to ignore Stark’s first few monotheism books given his strong association with the very visible theory of religious economies.Religion 121 capacities as the result of human evolution. its secret telos’ (p. his work on monotheism became easier and easier to ignore as the religious underpinnings of his argument became more and more blatant. One True God and For . that struggle is not completely over. and so does not consider Christianity. at this point in his long career.’ Ok. So again: why worry? Actually. this suggests the operation of a self-correcting process that validates our faith in the scientific method.89. although Bellah’s scheme (like Stark’s) does allow for an ‘ordering’ of religions. has not paid much attention to these later books. but so what? It appears then that Rodney Stark. can so easily revert to a 19th-century social-evolutionary framework whose telos is evangelical Protestantism – then such a worldview is clearly not dead. Second. while the first few books in his monotheism series. in other words.195] at 02:36 29 October 2014 OK. Downloaded by [88. Thus.

89.122 M. there is one more reason for paying careful attention to Stark’s recent work and it has to do with Islam. the pope (Urban II) who preached the First Crusade was part of the Church of Piety. although Stark’s evangelical vision may only have become especially explicit in his monotheism series. and (2) that much of the evidence supportive of the theory of religious economies dissipates if we conceptualize religiosity in non-evangelical terms. On the contrary. Furthermore. but it seems plausible to suggest that with the distribution networks available to these publishers.195] at 02:36 29 October 2014 Discovering God … is breathtaking in its scope. In a book we have so far not considered. has likely reached a large audience and has been relatively well received in some circles. writes: Written in an engaging style yet retaining scholarly integrity … this work would serve well as an introduction to the history/sociology of religion. sales numbers aside. I suggest. in other words. again commenting on Discovering God. academic and seminary libraries. Recommended to public.000 copies – not at all bad for books published by a university press. with For the Glory of God selling over 10. and Stark’s monotheism series generally. (p. although Stark’s privileging of a distinctively evangelical vision of God in his monotheism books does not necessarily invalidate his work on religious economies. in the Library Journal Wigner (2007). in shortened . positive reviews of his work have appeared in non-academic publications.8. and so should be taken into account when assessing his earlier and more well-known analyses. were published by Princeton University Press. however. Writing in the National Catholic Reporter. In other words. Third. The net effect. (p. has functioned to legitimize in the minds of many people a retrograde approach to religion that undermines that separation between religion and the study of religion – and that for many scholars is a necessary precondition for insight into religious phenomena. it seems likely that that vision has been shaping his work for quite some time. While Princeton does not share exact sales figures. were published as trade books by well-known publishers (Random House in the case of The Victory of Reason and Harper Collins in the case of Discovering God and The Triumph of Christianity). a representative did say (private communication. is that Discovering God. it does lend support to earlier critiques (Carroll 2004) which suggested both: (1) that the theory of religious economies rested upon a distinctively evangelical Protestant vision of what it means to be ‘religious’. sales might well have been good. Carroll the Glory of God. Stark takes aim at claims that European Crusaders were ruthless barbarians who attacked a relatively tolerant Islamic society for plunder and land. and that the Crusader kingdoms were part of a European colonialist impulse.P. God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades (2009). Stark argues. Saladin was not the good guy he is often made out to be in romanticized Western accounts. 18) Similarly. These same arguments are repeated. the Crusader kingdoms were relatively tolerant societies compared to their neighbors. for instance. etc. Turner (2008) tells us: Downloaded by [88. Finally. the Crusaders were driven by true piety. It illustrates not only the amazing varieties of religious belief that have marked the journey of humankind but also the often contradictory variety of sociological explorations of those beliefs. The next three books considered here. 2011) that each book sold thousands of copies. 77) Stark’s work. I have not been able to obtain sales records for these books.

But once more: so what? Actually. Here again. in today’s climate. of course. and then. just as he did in discussing the Reformation in England.Downloaded by [88. as a source of violence. Still. in commenting on God’s Battalions. Ontario (Canada). he has published seven books on popular Catholicism in different historical periods and cultural contexts. Stark reaches into the past for his scholarly materials and promotes a vision of history (and historical development) that has long been discarded by most modern scholars. Stark’s analysis of course deals with the Crusades. noting first that news sources in the United States today are tailored to appeal to particular audiences. implies that reason and science has led him to statements of the ‘I think it inappropriate to include Islam in the inspired core of faiths’ (Stark 2007) variety and who then goes on to write an account of the Crusades of the sort that appears in God’s Battalions? I think not.195] at 02:36 29 October 2014 Religion 123 form. in The Triumph of Christianity (Stark 2011: 199–234).89. in other words. when discussing God’s Battalions. there is nothing inherently inappropriate about developing a view of history at odds with most contemporary scholarship. Renick’s point is only that God’s Battalions creates an account of the Islamic past that reinforces many of the views and perceptions about Islam and Islamic societies in the present that are held and promoted by contemporary conservatives in the United States – who see Islam as intolerant. Quite the contrary. so that ‘conservative viewers tune in to Fox News for a confirmation of their judgments and perceptions’ (p. 39). Apart from his early work on myth and folklore.’ Here again. Acknowledgements I want to thank the three anonymous reviewers and the editor for their very constructive comments on the original version of this article. taking their comments into account resulted in a better argument and a more clearly written text. and as opposed to Western culture. noting that Stark’s argument ‘provides an account of the Crusades perfectly fitted for the Fox News audience’ (p. has already made the point that ‘much of the research he [Stark] uses to refute the historical accounts of the past generation [of historians] is itself over 30 years old. I believe that academics who study religion have an obligation to look carefully at any scholarly work that devalues Islam (whether in the past or the present) in order to see if something other than evidence is driving the argument and to lay bare what that something might be. His most recent books include Veiled Threats: . There seems very little sociology or theoretical argument in Stark’s discussion of Islam. can we really turn a blind eye when a former President of the Scientific Study of Religion. 38).8. Carroll is Professor of Sociology and Dean of Arts at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. given the rampant Islamophobia that pervades our society. Renick (2010) also provides the answer here. the analysis here does indeed suggest that underlying his conclusions about Islam is long-standing and distinctively evangelical approach to what religion is all about. Michael P. while the corpus of Stark’s work on religion – including his work on Islam – can and should be taken as an object of study for anyone interested in the political and historiographical corollaries of an evangelical worldview in modern America – we must recognize that it is nothing more and nothing less. not Muslims and Islam in the modern world. who for more than 40 years has been a leading practitioner in the Sociology of Religion. And in Stark’s case. Generally. and Renick (2010: 40).

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