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Acts of Faith

Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion

Rodney Stark
Roger Finke
Copyright Date: 2000
Edition: 1
Pages: 343
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  • Book Info
    Acts of Faith
    Book Description:

    Finally, social scientists have begun to attempt to understand religious behavior rather than to discredit it as irrational, ignorant, or foolish—and Rodney Stark and Roger Finke have played a major role in this new approach. Acknowledging that science cannot assess the supernatural side of religion (and therefore should not claim to do so), Stark and Finke analyze the observable, human side of faith. In clear and engaging prose, the authors combine explicit theorizing with animated discussions as they move from considering the religiousness of individuals to the dynamics of religious groups and then to the religious workings of entire societies as religious groups contend for support. The result is a comprehensive new paradigm for the social-scientific study of religion.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92434-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iv-v)
  3. Introduction: Atheism, Faith, and the Social Scientific Study of Religion
    (pp. 1-24)

    Until quite recently there was very little science in the social scientific study of religion. As a child of the “Enlightenment,” social science began with the conviction that religion was not only false but wicked and best gotten rid of as soon as possible. Of course, there was nothing new about atheism: many ancient Greek philosophers rejected the gods, as did various schools of Indian and Chinese philosophy (Collins 1998). Indeed, according to Clifford Geertz (1966), atheists exist in preliterate and “primitive” societies, making it likely that there were atheists even in Neanderthal times.

    What Thomas Hobbes and his friends...

  4. PART ONE Paradigms in Conflict

    • CHAPTER 1 A New Look at Old Issues
      (pp. 27-41)

      An immense intellectual shift is taking place in the social scientific study of religion. During the past few years, many of its most venerated theoretical positions—faithfully passed down from the famous founders of the field—have been overturned. The changes have become so dramatic and far-reaching that R. Stephen Warner identified them “as a paradigm shift in progress” (1993,1044), an assessment that since then “has been spectacularly fulfilled,” according to Andrew Greeley (1996,1).

      As is typical in science, the emergence of a new paradigm rests on both an empirical and a theoretical basis (Greeley 1996; Warner 1993). As described...

    • CHAPTER 2 Rationality and the “Religious Mind”
      (pp. 42-56)

      The notion that humans are essentially rational creatures underlies the mainstream of modern social science, except when religion is the object of study. When it comes to religion, many social scientists still cling to the doctrine, originated by the founders of their fields, that because the “religious mind” is fundamentally irrational, “choice” plays little or no role in religious behavior. Again and again we have been told that people are unable to balance the costs of religious commitment against its benefits. Instead, to explain why Mormons, for example, are willing to tithe, we are directed to investigate how their childhood...

    • CHAPTER 3 Secularization, R.I.P.
      (pp. 57-80)

      For nearly three centuries, social scientists and assorted Western intellectuals have been promising the end of religion. Each generation has been confident that within another few decades, or possibly a bit longer, humans will “outgrow” belief in the supernatural. This proposition soon came to be known as the secularization thesis, and its earliest proponents seem to have been British, as the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 led to an era during which militant attacks on faith were quite popular among fashionable Londoners (Durant and Durant 1965).

      As far as we are able to discover, it was the English divine...

  5. PART TWO The Religious Individual

    • CHAPTER 4 The Micro Foundations of Religion
      (pp. 83-113)

      The origins of religion are not to be found through historical or archaeological research. As William J. Goode remarked, “[H]ow, under what conditions, [humans] began to believe in divine beings nearly a million years ago must remain sheer speculation,” for “the data are irrevocably gone” (1951,22,230). Consequently, the only feasible way to discover the fundamental sources of religious expression is, not to seek data on early humans, but to examine elementary theoretical principles about what humans are like and how their aspirations exceed their opportunities.

      This chapter resumes our theoretical quest to understand religion (Stark and Bainbridge 1980c; 1985; [1987]...

    • CHAPTER 5 Religious Choices: Conversion and Reaffiliation
      (pp. 114-138)

      Even in tiny, preliterate societies, people have religious choices. The most obvious of these is whether to be religious at all, and some people in all societies opt for irreligion. But even people who do choose to be religious must select a mode of religious expression from the available options. In complex societies, the range of possible religious choices is usually very substantial, but even in preliterate groups, religious factions are common and new religious movements often arise, hence people must decide whether to shift their commitment or stick with tradition.

      In this chapter we attempt to explain why and...

  6. PART THREE The Religious Group

    • CHAPTER 6 Religious Group Dynamics
      (pp. 141-168)

      Imagine a Protestant church where every Sunday seems like Christmas. The turnout is huge—everyone always attends and helps “make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” The collection plates come back overflowing, and there are far more volunteers than needed to perform all of the necessary congregational tasks. And because members actively seek to share their faith, the group is growing so fast that it will soon need to build a larger church or split into two congregations.

      At the end of chapter 4, we proposed that individual religious commitment is rooted in social support and reinforcement—that the high...

    • CHAPTER 7 Catholic Religious Vocations: Decline and Revival
      (pp. 169-190)

      For the past three decades, a rapid decline in Roman Catholic religious vocations has been under way in North America and most of western Europe. For example, in 1965, there were 181,421 nuns,12,225 brothers, and 48,046 male seminarians in the United States. Just five years later, in 1970, there were only 153,645 American nuns. During that year, 4,337 Catholic women (most of them young) left the religious life, a defection rate six times higher than in the early 1960s. Meanwhile, the number of seminarians had declined by 40 percent to 28,819, and the number of brothers had dropped to 11,623....

  7. PART FOUR The Religious Economy

    • CHAPTER 8 A Theoretical Model of Religious Economies
      (pp. 193-217)

      Within all social systems there is a relatively distinct subsystem encompassing religious activity. It is useful to identify this subsystem as a religious economy (Stark 1983; 1985).

      Definition 32.A religious economy consists of all of the religious activity going on in any society: a “market” of current and potential adherents, a set of one or more organizations seeking to attract or maintain adherents, and the religious culture offered by the organization(s).

      Just as a commercial economy can be distinguished into elements of supply and demand, so too can a religious economy. Indeed, it is the emphasis on the supply...

    • CHAPTER 9 Religious Competition and Commitment: An International Assessment
      (pp. 218-258)

      When it was first introduced (Stark 1983; 1985), some social scientists seemed offended by the phrase “religious economy,” and the very idea that competition strengthens religion was greeted with considerable derision. Only a true Philistine would attempt to apply crass economic principles to the sacred. And doesn’t everyone know that competition corrodes religious plausibility? Fortunately, in addition to all this heat, there were frequent glimmers of light in the form of research. So now, more than a decade later, only a few recusants continue to claim that religious phenomena are exempt from principles such as supply and demand. As ought...

    • CHAPTER 10 Church-to-Sect Movements
      (pp. 259-276)

      It is the received wisdom that, once begun, the sect-to-church process is irreversible, and that “secularization” is an absorbing state from which faith never returns. H. Richard Niebuhr (1929), the originator of sect-to-church theory, took it for granted that transformation was possible only in the churchlike direction—that churches could not reverse the process and become more sectlike. He theorized that only the lower classes want high-tension faith, and that sects are turned into churches when they are taken over by the upper classes. Because, in Niebuhr’s view, the lower classes are incapable of reclaiming a church from elite control,...

  8. APPENDIX: Propositions and Definitions
    (pp. 277-286)
  9. NOTES
    (pp. 287-294)
    (pp. 295-324)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 325-344)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 345-346)