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The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries Paperback – May 9, 1997


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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A provocative, insightful, challenging account of the rise of Christianity." -- -- Andrew M. Greeley, National Opinion Research Center, University of Chicago

"Compelling reading...highly recommended." -- Library Journal

"Rodney Stark's new book will challenge, provoke, and irritate. But anyone who has puzzled over Christianity's rise to dominance in the Roman Empire, after a scant four centuries, must read it. Here is theoretical brashness combined with disarming common sense, a capacious curiosity, and a most uncommon ability to tell a complicated story in simple prose." -- Wayne A. Meeks, Yale University

"Stark finds that Christians prospered the old-fashioned way: by providing a better, happier and more secure way of life.... In the end, Stark concludes, Christians 'revitalized' the Roman Empire." -- Kenneth Woodward, Newsweek

"This book raises, simply and brilliantly, just the kinds of questions anyone concerned with early Christianity should ask." -- Christian Century

"This book raises, simply and brilliantly, just the kinds of questions anyone concerned with early Christianity should ask." -- -- The Christian Century

From the Publisher

"Compelling reading" (Library Journal) that is sure to "generate spirited argument" (Publishers Weekly) , this account of Christianity's remarkable growth within the Roman Empire is already the subject of much fanfare. "Anyone who has puzzled over Christianity's rise to dominance... must read it," says Yale University's Wayne A. Meeks, for The Rise of Christianity makes a compelling case for startling conclusions. Combining his expertise in social science with historical evidence and his insight into contemporary religion's appeal, Stark finds that early Christianity attracted the privileged rather than the poor, that most early converts were women or marginalized Jews -- and ultimately "that Christianity was a success because it proved those who joined it with a more appealing, more assuring, happier, and perhaps longer life" (Andrew M. Greely, University of Chicago).

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: HarperSanFrancisco (May 9, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060677015
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060677015
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #15,854 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Stark makes some very credible arguments about how this was done.
Bobby Winters
This book, written by Sociologist Rodney Stark, is an easy, yet thourogh investigation on the rise of Christianity in the first few centuries.
K.H.
I also recommend this book to those who are just interested in the history of Christianity in general.
Miguel Benitez Jr.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

141 of 148 people found the following review helpful By Paul Frandano on July 17, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is the mystery of two millennia, right? How does an obscure sect led by an executed convict go from less than 100 adherents to an estimated 6 million on the eve on Constantine's "conversion" in the early fourth century?
Social scientist Rodney Stark did more than puzzle: he created a set of testable hypotheses and tried, via secondary literature (he reads no ancient language and disclaims any expertise in the traditional scholarship of early church history), to probe the key issues. Along the way, he uses contemporary social science findings from demography, the sociology of small groups, the psychology of conversion, medical statistics, and every other conceptual lever he could divine to create a compelling mosaic of findings, arrayed in discrete topical chapters (each of which had a former life as a scholarly article).
Others have pointed out, as does Stark himself, that his work is a strictly scientific enterprise: his own religious views are for himself. he is a sociologist of religion. He gives respectful attention to the historical record of the early church, which consists almost exclusively of the well-known testaments from the early church -New Testament accounts, non-canonic letters and gospels, and works by Eusebius, Tertullian, and their peers. But in the end, the "miracle" of the expansion of the early church seems explicable by a number of readily understandable facts and processes.
For example, the forty percent growth rate per decade from 30 CE to 300 CE, which arithmetically gets one from 40 converts to 6 million, seems virtually miraculous - until Stark compares this rate to the growth achieved by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints - the Mormons - which in the past century has averaged just over 40 percent per decade.
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51 of 55 people found the following review helpful By R. S. Corzine VINE VOICE on August 9, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was a bit skeptical at first of Stark's proposed methodology: applying the results of modern sociological research to questions of early Christian History. But he employs this method in a very responsible way, using the sociology to generate an expectation and then checking that against the actual historical evidence to see if it is borne out. The result, I think are some real insights. Stark has done Christians a real service in helping them to understand the historical roots of their faith. It is also, I would submit, immensely practical for modern Christians to reflect on how the early Church thrived and grew in the midst of a pagan culture.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Rizal Halim on June 13, 2005
Format: Paperback
Rodney Stark uses a sociological perspective to reconsider the development of Christianity from the early first century until it became the dominant faith and official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century. Stark, who is currently a university professor of social sciences at Baylor University, begins with the basic premise that the development of Christianity is not purely a social and political factor, but rather the product of human faith that stands up to all social phenomena: from interaction with pagan values and persecution, to the various social crises such as epidemic and political disorder. Stark writes, "Whatever one does or doesn't believe about the divine, obviously God didn't cause the world to be Christian." That the world has become Christian and will continue to be Christian depends on human effort that is based on the reflection and commitment of that Christian faith and community.

Stark states that the early Christian community gained it converts through a social network built by intimate interpersonal attachment. Interpersonal relations within the early Christian community built a strong social network that allowed the steady growth of conversion during the first centuries. In this context, it becomes important for Stark to reconsider what was the social basis of the early Christian community. Many historians and sociologists in the twentieth century claim that Christianity and all religious movements are driven by the lower social strata in a community. For Stark, this assumption is no longer accurate because of the fact that the early Christians consisted of the privileged and the middle class in the community. Christianity was pardoned by the political authority because it included members among the family, friends and relatives of the early believers.
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91 of 109 people found the following review helpful By Bobby Winters on December 9, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A good friend of mine suggested this book, and when I read it the first time, I did it in a day. It is very readable and very intelligent. As a life-long Christian, I had never paused to think about how a new religion on one end of the Mediterranean Sea spread to the whole of the Roman world in as little as 300 years. Stark makes some very credible arguments about how this was done. The mechanisms described do not require "magic", however that does not make the result any less miraculous.
Church leaders and theologians would do well to read this book and ponder for themselves. For the thinking person who is open to arguments that actually use numbers in an intelligent way (no Bible Code here!), this is a book that offers insight into the mechanisms of church growth, the practical consequences of sexual immorality, and the positive effect of having a high value on women.
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