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Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Learn more

Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion

9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0520222021
ISBN-10: 0520222024
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Editorial Reviews


A "crucial exposition in an increasingly combative dispute about method in the sociology of religion."--"Times Literary Supplement

From the Inside Flap

"Acts of Faith is the single 'big book' in the sociology of religion in the past decade, a monumental effort that both demolishes old theories and creates brilliant new ones. Stark and Finke have mastered the literature in the field, gathered ingenious data analysis to sustain their positions, and presented their work with flair, imagination, and brilliance. Though it is quite impossible to turn around the social science profession completely with a single book, or indeed within a single decade, these two authors have achieved a powerful beginning in this task. This landmark publication marks a turning point."—Andrew M. Greeley, University of Chicago

"This book is a major next step in developing the sociology of religion's 'new paradigm'--an important summary of the evolving 'religious economies' theory. Stark and Finke's spirited deconstruction of antireligious secularization theories and other theories of 'irrational' religion is simply delightful. And its own constructive theory offers a valuable resource for those friendly to the rational choice approach to religion, as well as a continuing challenge to its critics."—Christian Smith, University of North Carolina

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 350 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (August 7, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520222024
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520222021
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #229,262 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 42 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This authors of this book do not, as one reviewer rather superficially whined, claim that the religious perspective is the only valid perspective from which religion can be observed. Their argument is more simply for the validity or "rationality" of the religious perspective. They rightly dismiss the secularization thesis, and contend that religion is here to stay. Furthermore, as an enduring component of human life, religion (and the religious person) deserves to be treated with an appropriate seriousness. The scientific study of religion has for too long been plagued by the presupposition that all religion and religious sentiment is based on illusion or foolishness/irrationality. Stark and Finke, however, give religion and the religious person the respect they deserve by taking their claims at face value. There is no argument for the existence of God (or the validity of any particular truth-claims); instead, the authors put forth an argument for the validity and genuineness of religion as an enduring human construct. The question of transcendence they do not even approach. Finally, it should be noted that Stark and Finke do us a great service by specifying what they mean when they use terms like "religion," "miracle," "prayer," and, yes, "rational." Let there be no mistake: this book is written from the perspective of rational choice theory, and that can be distasteful to many--especially when the subject is religion. But Stark and Finke go a long way toward making their thoughtful, honest and cogent perspective more palatable to the rest of us.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Fr. Charles Erlandson on September 22, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Acts of Faith represents the culmination of more than 30 years of research in the sociology of religion by Rodney Stark (and also Roger Finke). It is Stark's magnum opus, putting together in one place the distillation of all of his important research, and is the single best book on the sociology of religion that I've come across. While no single theory, even a good one, can explain religion adequately, Acts of Faith represents the single best attempt I've yet seen. Like any good theory, it has power to explain a wide range of phenomenon. While it's not a book above criticism, many of the more negative reviews misunderstand what Stark and Finke are actually saying. I first came across this book when I was pursuing my Ph.D. in Religious Studies.

Stark and Finke begin by properly destroying the secularization thesis as it was taught for several decades. The old secularization thesis stated things such as "religion is false and harmful" and "religion is doomed." Stark and Finke's response is to properly understand the ways in which this older secularization thesis has been radically revised. Not only is religion alive and kicking in the world, but the religious piety of the past was also not as great as has been assumed.

The heart of the book deals with what the authors refer to as "the religious economy." While there are certainly other legitimate ways of analyzing religion, Stark and Finke's model has great explanatory power. For them, "a religious economy consists of all the religious activity going on in any society." One of the most important corollaries of this view is that "The capacity of a single religious firm to monopolize a religious economy depends upon the degree to which the state uses coercive force to regulate the religious economy.
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29 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Steve Baughman on December 1, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The main point of this book is that religious behavior conforms to the classic supply and demand economic model. Religions sell "products" and exact "costs." Cost/benefit determines why people join or leave religious groups.

Here is a partial summary of themes.

1) Religious belief is rational because believers evaluate the costs and benefits of their religious participation. They conclude that the benefits outweigh the costs. Therefore they are rational actors.

This is really silly. It confuses participation with belief. Yes, the perceived cost/benefit ratio may justify participation from a narrow economic point of view, but this says nothing about whether the actual beliefs are rational. Under S&F's analysis, participation in suicide cults, the Flat Earth Society, and spaceship cults is rational because the believer thought about participating and then concluded that benefits outweigh costs.

The authors also fail to recognize the equivocal nature of the term "rational." They use it in a narrow economic sense. But those who think religious belief is "irrational" do not disagree with this. They say, rather, that religious belief goes beyond the evidence, requires unwarranted, blind, assumptions, etc. and is therefore irrational. S&F do not address this conception of rationality. Accordingly, skip the first chapter. It's a waste of time.

2) Religious participation is subject to market principles of supply and demand. Religions exact "costs" for their "products" and religious participants are rational actors who perform cost/benefit analysis prior to engaging in religious activity. (Costs are such things as $$$, donations of time, willingness to undergo tension with surrounding culture, celibacy, separation from society, etc.
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