Thursday, April 07, 2005

Biography of Rodney Stark - Encyclopedia of Religion and Social Science

Much of Stark's recent writing has been a reexamination of American religious history from a religious economies perspective, primarily in collaboration with Roger Finke. Their primary emphasis has been on clearing up a variety of misconceptions about religious life in America, beginning with the colonial era. The Churching of America, 1776-1990 (Rutgers University Press 1992) is the culmination of these efforts. In it they note such popular myths as the high religiosity of colonial New England (their estimates are that only 17% of colonialists had a religious affiliation), that mainline churches (Episcopal, Congregational, Presbyterian, and so on) began to decline in the 1960s (they find it started in the mid-1800s), and that the 1960s and 1970s were characterized by religious "eruptions" such as cult formation, Eastern religions making inroads, and the New Age (which they state are all exaggerated).

Stark and Finke go on to provide evidence for a different view of American religious history, one in which the colonial era is seen as a time of low religious fervor. They note that this did not change until the colonies became more interdependent economically, forcing colonies to be more tolerant of religious traditions not financially supported by them. Eventually the U.S. Constitution opened up the religious marketplace, making it easier for new religious groups to flourish. Through several chapters, they indicate the impact this religious freedom had on the rising fortunes of such groups as Baptists, Methodists, and Catholics, as well as the subsequent decline of the Methodists.

My emphases.

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