Review of "The Rise of Christianity" by Rodney Stark

I read The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Become the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries based on the recommendations from blog friends. I am not disappointed. Rise is an excellent sociological history of the first Christian centuries, beginning roughly with the martyrdoms of James, Paul, and Peter and ending with the conversion of the Emperor Constantine. A must read for those interested in rising religious movements in general, Stark’s brilliant application of “rational choice” economics to the field of religion is a must-read.


The Reform Judaism of the 1st Century

Rodney Stark is a rational-choice sociologist, who views belonging as a good that people attempt to maximize. Belonging-providers can either be public or private. Examples of private providers are magicians, wizards, heelers, and pagan cults, while public providers tend to demand exclusive committment and accept some degree of alienation from society. Most of Rise of Christianity is an extremely readible exploration of this delving into many aspects of city life.

I first heard of The Rise of Christianity after a commentator noted its similarity with my blog series, Jesusism-Paulism. Because this has been mentioned before, I will now address how his 1997 book relates to 2000s series.The similar is clear, and the posts that overlap most with Stark’s book (in particular, “Love Your Enemy As You Would Have Him Love You,” “Caiaphas and Diocletian Did Know Better,” and “the Fall of Rome“) clearly share a similar orientation, though Stark’s methods and focus are different. As Rise ends with Constantine, the claims of my last two posts, “The People of the Book” and “Embrace and Extend,” are not addressed at all. Finally, while both Dr. Stark and I view women as vital to the success of Christianity, my focus on harmonious deconfliction contrasts with his more feminist interpretation.

The Rise of Christianity is an excellent book. Strongly recommended.