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Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief Reprint Edition

3.6 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0061626012
ISBN-10: 0061626015
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (December 2, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061626015
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061626012
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #894,077 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have read hundreds of books on religion, and written five myself; among the former group, this is one of the most interesting.

Rodney Stark has been one of America's leading sociologists of religion for a long time. (Cited by skeptics as well as religious believers.) His marketplace model of religions, which he has been developing for decades (it goes back at least to his Theory of Religion) is a powerful tool of understanding: it may revolutionize the way you see the world, as it did for me. In Theory of Religion, and then his series on the rise of Christianity, Stark developed and tested a series of general postulates about the social nature of religion, seldom however writing too boldly about its ontological basis.

This book pulls many of the threads of Stark's storied career together,introduces interesting new topics -- especially "temple religion," and a thoughtful take on Lang's "High Gods" -- and poses a few questions about the truth or falsehood of religion as well.

Over the past 24 years, I have researched many of the topics Stark covers in this book. What impresses me about this book is that Stark so often gets it right where the "conventional wisdom" gets it wrong. I begin with specific claims, then will comment on Stark's story of religion:

"Where religious monopolies prevail. the overall level of public religious involvement will be low."

"Why did none of these three 'major' religions, nor even all of them together, actually become the religion of most Chinese?" (As a China scholar, and author of True Son of Heaven, I see that as a great question -- though by my count, China has traditionally had some eight "major" religions.
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