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A Theory of Religion Paperback – June 1, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

Review

«Stark and Bainbridge have made pioneering and enduring efforts in writing this book, and to a large extent they have been successful in their attempt to explain deductively why and how the phenomena of religion occur.» (K.Peter Takayama, Journal of Church and State)
«This study is generally clear and coherent, and provides fresh, interesting sidelights on the ebb and flow of religious groupings as human organizations.» (David J.Casey, Theological Studies)
«By demonstrating that the main propositions of the sociology of religion have a logical coherence, the authors have made a decisive contribution to their discipline.» (Winston Davis, The Journal of Religion)
«...the finest consistent application of the deductive method for the construction of a sociological theory of religion. The value of 'A Theory of Religion' lies in the distance it carries sociology toward a scientific theory of religion and in teh sustained rigor of its deductive application. It is a 'must read'.» (Thomas Ryba, Zygon)
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Rodney Stark is the Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University. His thirty books on the history and sociology of religion include The Rise of Christianity, Cities of God, For the Glory of God, Discovering God, and The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success. Stark received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

National Science Foundation
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 390 pages
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press; Reprint edition (June 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813523303
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813523309
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,504,079 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
This book is far too-little utilized in theorizing religion in the field of Religious Studies. I find it stunning that a text that has been around for nearly thirty years is as marginalized as it is given its explanatory potential. The Foreword by Jeffrey K. Hadden explains why this has been the case. Academics, to their loss, overlook the seriousness and effectiveness this theory brings to studying human religious behavior. People are not rational six days a week then on Sunday (or whenever) go loony as they worship the gods in their traditional forms. Humans use their rational abilities in all decisions, including decisions related to the gods. Perhaps it is because the authors use "exchange theory" to create and evaluate their various Definitions, Propositions, and Axioms and this economically-oriented theory is just too stale or reductionist for most scholars. Even if it seems so, the usefulness of the theory remains. I appreciate its humility in acknowledging right out of the gate (p. 19) "no theory ever offers a full account of every aspect of any concrete event." So, if some religious behavior appears beyond strictly the rational (perhaps mysticism, self-mutilation, exaggerated emotions, speaking-in-tongues and the like qualify) then we may look elsewhere for the explanations. But even these behaviors may find partial explanation in the rational choices human beings make in their existential decision-making processes and in the context of a person's life situation.

Most interesting is their notion of religious "compensators" (IOUs) which stand in for rewards (the real deals) and how these are exchanged in a form of religious capitalism. People don't belong to religions expecting to get nothing out of it. If they did, then they truly would be irrational. But they don't.
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A foundational writing. He is identifying elements of religion that can measured and analyzed. An excellent first step in understanding religion.
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IF YOU WANT TO UNDERSTAND RELIGION, READ AND STUDY THIS BOOK
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Format: Paperback
Stark's work is extremely popular in the modern field of religious studies. However, he is, without a doubt, one of the largest hacks in the business. This book is a fine example of the sort of sociological effluent he deposits on the shoes of religious scholars every year. The sweeping arbitrary generalizations, vague and universalizing terminology, and lack of supporting evidence for his conclusions really make it a page-turner. I couldn't put the book down, again and again thinking, "What incredibly stupid thing will he say next?" If you want a book on the functioning of religious groups, try Georges Bataille, Pierre Bourdieu, Clifford Geertz, or Catherine Bell. Hell, even the mad ravings of Slavov Zizek on the subject are more worthwhile, because at least he has flashes of important insight occasionally. Just trust me on this one: skip Stark's book unless you need perspective on all the things wrong with modern religious studies.

Christopher Rubio
Reed College 2010
Thesis on Conversion and Ritual in Cults
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Format: Paperback
Rodney Stark's A THEORY OF RELIGION IS THE MOST IMPORTANT BOOK IN THE SOCIOLOGY OF RELIGION TO COME OUT IN THE PAST THIRTY YEARS.
NO DOUBT IN MY MIND ABOUT IT.
MARK D. COHEN, M.S.,SOCIOLOGY, UW-MADISON 1989
MASTER'S THESIS ON A LUTHERAN CHURCH
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