The Rise of Mormonism

The Rise of Mormonism

Rodney Stark
EDITED BY Reid L. Neilson
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 192
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/star13634
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    The Rise of Mormonism
    Book Description:

    Will Mormonism be the next world faith, one that will rival Catholicism, Islam, and other major religions in terms of numbers and global appeal? This was the question Rodney Stark addressed in his much-discussed and much-debated article, "The Rise of a New World Faith" (1984), one of several essays on Mormonism included in this new collection. Examining the religion's growing appeal, Rodney Stark concluded that Mormons could number 267 million members by 2080. In what would become known as "the Stark argument," Stark suggested that the Mormon Church offered contemporary sociologists and historians of religion an opportunity to observe a rare event: the birth of a new world religion.

    In the years following that article, Stark has become one of the foremost scholars of Mormonism and the sociology of religion. This new work, the first to collect his influential writings on the Mormon Church, includes previously published essays, revised and rewritten for this volume. His work sheds light on both the growth of Mormonism and on how and why certain religions continue to grow while others fade away.

    Stark examines the reasons behind the spread of Mormonism, exploring such factors as cultural continuity with the faiths from which it seeks converts, a volunteer missionary force, and birth rates. He explains why a demanding faith like Mormonism has such broad appeal in today's world and considers the importance of social networks in finding new converts. Stark's work also presents groundbreaking perspectives on larger issues in the study of religion, including the nature of revelation and the reasons for religious growth in an age of modernization and secularization.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50991-6
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Rodney Stark
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    Rodney Stark is not a Mormon. He is, however, a renowned sociologist with an abiding interest in the Latter-day Saints. In his own words, the “miracle” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter Church of Jesus Christ or LDS Church) makes it “the single most important case on the agenda of the social scientific study of religion.” As a sociologist, he considers the rise of Mormonism to be “one of the great events in the history of religion.”¹

    Many have wondered how and why a non-Mormon academic has become so interested in the Latter-day Saints. Sociologist Armand...

  5. 1. Extracting Social Scientific Models from Mormon History
    (pp. 21-29)

    Historians have become accustomed to exhortations that they ought to apply social scientific models to their scholarship. Thus, when the Mormon History Association invited me to give the distinguished O.C. Tanner Lecture on Mormon History at their thirty-second annual conference in 1998, they likely assumed that any religious movement, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is both unique and constrained by general social scientific principles. And I imagine they presumed that I would devote my lecture to explaining how some of these principles apply to Mormon history.

    However, I thought it would be far more useful to...

  6. 2. Joseph Smith Among the Revelators
    (pp. 30-56)

    Several days after experiencing his “First Vision,” Joseph Smith related his theophany to a local revivalist Methodist preacher. His rehearsal was not well received. “I was greatly surprised at his behaviour,” Joseph recorded, “he treated my communication not only lightly, but with great contempt, saying it was all of the devil; that there was no such thing as visions or revelations in these days; that all such things had ceased with the Apostles, and that there never would be any more of them” (Smith 1853:77). Historian Richard Bushman explains: “The preacher reacted quickly, not because of the strangeness of Joseph’s...

  7. 3. Mormon Networks of Faith
    (pp. 57-82)

    Although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began as a Holy Family, it soon spread through existing and expanding Mormon social networks. While Joseph Smith worked on the translation of the Book of Mormon, he and his wife, Emma, established their own household. Friends and neighbors soon learned about Joseph’s activities. Among them were Martin Harris—Joseph’s longtime friend, neighbor, and sometime employer—and Oliver Cowdery, a young schoolteacher who offered to serve as Joseph’s scribe. As previously mentioned, Cowdery formed a close friendship with David Whitmer and sent him a “few lines of what they had translated”...

  8. 4. Rationality and Mormon Sacrifice
    (pp. 83-94)

    Mormonism has always demanded and received sacrifice from its followers. Early LDS leaders taught that “a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; … it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God.” They continued, “When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has for the truth’s sake, not even withholding his life, … he can obtain the faith...

  9. 5. Modernization, Secularization, and Mormon Growth
    (pp. 95-113)

    When I published my set of Mormon growth projections (1984a) I encountered a lot of resistance from some social scientists. They repeatedly offered me sage counsel about the perils of straight-line projections. Therefore, in this chapter I assess more fully the arguments raised by colleagues who think that LDS growth is bound to slow dramatically very soon due to modernization and secularization, and that a world abounding in Latter-day Saints will thereby be averted.

    For nearly three centuries, assorted Western intellectuals, including sociologists, have been promising the end of religion. Each generation has been confident that within another few decades...

  10. 6. The Basis of Mormon Success
    (pp. 114-138)

    Since 1830, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has sustained explosive growth. Many observers have struggled to understand why Mormonism continues to flourish. To answer this question, I present a refined theoretical model of why religious movements succeed.

    My initial version of this model (Stark 1987) was stimulated by my observation that the many case studies of new religious movements were in almost every instance studies of a group that had failed or would soon do so. How could the failures be separated from the rare groups that succeed? I developed an integrated set of eight propositions and...

  11. 7. The Rise of a New World Faith
    (pp. 139-146)

    The formation of a new religion must occur almost daily somewhere in the world (Stark and Bainbridge 1985). Despite all that activity, it is exceedingly difficult to study the rise of new religions. Virtually all new faiths are born and die in obscurity, thus giving sociologists no opportunity to see what factors lead to success. And nearly all the others can be said to “rise” only in comparison with the utter failures, for they, too, pass into history as no more than a footnote, and that only because of their novelty. Indeed, it has been nearly one thousand four hundred...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 147-160)
  13. Further Acknowledgments
    (pp. 161-162)
  14. Index
    (pp. 163-178)