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Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief Hardcover – October 2, 2007

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 484 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; 1st edition (October 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061173894
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061173899
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #983,500 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Skeptics such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett have just lost their monopoly on the topic of religious evolution. Only a believer, Stark asserts, can fathom the origins and subsequent unfolding of the world's great faiths. In this wide-ranging investigation, Stark detects sacred reality—not pious deception—at the heart of transcendent beliefs shared by Aborigines and Anglicans. In their myths of the high gods, Stark contends, early tribal peoples glimpsed divine truths obscured in later civilizations when pharaohs and emperors lent government support to temple priesthoods more interested in maintaining a comfortable lifestyle than in serving God. The eventual emergence of a religious marketplace in ancient Rome opened a wide range of metaphysical options. Yet in a culture of religious pluralism, the insistent claims of tightly knit communities of Jews and Christians appeared threatening to Roman leaders, who defended the status quo by persecuting adherents to these unsettlingly intense faiths. Yet it is in these revelatory faiths—and not the meditative religions of Eastern Asia—that Stark discerns the fullest manifestation of God. Some readers will resist Stark's comparative judgments; others will dispute his religious interpretation of modern science. But serious students of religion will recognize this as an essential sourcebook. Christensen, Bryce


Stark’s retelling of the origins of the world’s great religions is fascinating and excellent. (Newsweek)

“[A] wide-ranging investigation...serious students of religion will recognize this as an essential sourcebook.” (Booklist)

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Customer Reviews

I greatly enjoyed this book.
D. Krupp
This book offers an excellent study in comparative religion that offers a sympathetic portrayal of many of the world's religious systems.
New Age of Barbarism
Rodney Stark doesn't reveal himself as a proponent of `Intelligent Design' right until the end of the book.
Sumukha Ravishankar

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

79 of 84 people found the following review helpful By César González Rouco on October 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In the last few years I have been searching books offering a general overview of the past, and I have realized that many books entitled "History of ...whatever" only provide information about the West, the rest of the world being almost ignored. Rodney Stark 's "Discovering God" is different, it is truly a global work which will join a number of important new works on religion this Fall (for instance, Charles Taylor's "A Secular Age").

Stark, a professor of Social Sciences at Baylor University, is a prolific author and renowned scholar in the field of sociology of religion. This his new book is a history of the origins of religions covering prehistoric primal beliefs, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism and Confucianism, as well as the religions of Sumer, Egypt, Greece, early Rome and Mesoamerica. And, of course, Christianity and Islam.

Pursuant to him, God does exist and the evolution of religion is the story of how humans perceive God's revelations; over time, "human images of God will tend to progress from those having smaller to those having greater scope" and "humans will prefer an image of God[s] as rational and loving."

Defending that religious belief can be defended along more-or-less rational and ethical lines, and scolding monopoly religious organizations and temple religions which existed only to serve a small elite, not the common people, he argues for a free-market theory of religion (in a nutshell, religious competition increases the overall religiousness of the population) and that under unimpeded conditions, the most authentic religions will survive.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By New Age of Barbarism on December 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
_Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief_, by sociologist and religious critic Rodney Stark (who has written extensively on Christianity from a sympathetic perspective), is an account of the origins of religious belief and how such belief may be seen as progressing towards a "discovery of God". One of the advantages of this book is that unlike many of the recent books which have come out on the topic of religion, this book examines religion in a respectful and sympathetic manner. While the book surveys religion from "primitive" beliefs through the world's "great religions", it ultimately reveals the importance of religious beliefs and the manner in which such beliefs have led man to God. The book also is highly sympathetic to Christianity and its truth claims (so that some have seen it as an apologetic piece for Christianity) and although some of the author's interpretations may be suspect, I believe he makes an excellent case for the importance of religion. Further, the book covers "primitive" religions in a sympathetic manner and shows how primitive monotheism may underlie much of mankind's religious inheritance. In addition, the author argues for a free-market theory of religion, subscribing to "rational choice theory", and maintaining that under unimpeded conditions the best religions will thrive and survive. Finally, the book addresses the concept of whether God exists, finding evidence in support of the existence of God and for Intelligent Design in the universe. As such, this book offers an excellent and timely study in comparative religion and the evolution of religious belief from a sympathetic perspective that is certain to provide one with a profound understanding of the world's religious traditions.Read more ›
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34 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Alexander Kemestrios Ben on April 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book is entertaining, well written, and tendentious. One of those books you wish to throw at the wall as you read it. The book attempts to use a rational choice theory to explain the development of various religious doctrines and movements in history. On this account, it is informative--even if you disagree with the provocative hypothesis of Stark--and enjoyable.

However, it should be noted-- and I have not seen this pointed out yet-- that the scholarship undergirding this book is close to fraudulent. I will present one example.

On pages 40-41, Stark 'reviews' Pascal Boyer's work 'Religion Explained.' For some reason, Stark believes Boyer is hostile toward religion in the same manner that Richard Dawkins is. This is, of course, false.

Stark's quasi-precis of Boyer's view of religion reads as follows:

"Religion is thus a "parasitic" rider on valuable mental circuitry that evolved for valid reasons, but has the unfortunate "side effect" of prompting supernatural beliefs, which involve "the sleep of reason" since religion is, of course, an illusion." (Stark, pp. 40-41)

The first thing the reader should notice is Stark's use of normative phrases: "valid reasons," "unfortunate 'side effect,'" etc. Boyer uses no such language. His book is objective and scholarly. The phrases are obviously intended to turn Stark's religious readers off to Boyer. A little poisoning of the well; except Boyer's well contains no such anti-religious toxins.

Now, anybody who has read Boyer is perfectly aware that he is agnostic on whether or not God(s) exist. In fact, he does not care. His book is an attempt to explain why religious belief is so natural, not an attempt to assess its truth value.
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