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The Rise of Christianity

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  1,339 ratings  ·  147 reviews
This "fresh, blunt, and highly persuasive account of how the West was won—for Jesus" (Newsweek) is now available in paperback. Stark's provocative report challenges conventional wisdom and finds that Christianity's astounding dominance of the Western world arose from its offer of a better, more secure way of life.

"Compelling reading" (Library Journal) that is sure to "gene
Paperback, 272 pages
Published May 9th 1997 by HarperOne (first published 1996)
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George Probably too late to do one any good, but since it's so typical of Stark's thesis I did a Yahoo search on that text.

It led me to …more
Probably too late to do one any good, but since it's so typical of Stark's thesis I did a Yahoo search on that text.

It led me to, which places that sentence on p. 208. The blogger's link is to Amazon's offering of the 1997 paperback edition.

Note that the sentence actually begins with "And", so if you're writing in a tradition that requires it (I believe including American legal), your quotation would have to begin "[T]he primary ..."(less)

Community Reviews

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4.04  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,339 ratings  ·  147 reviews

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[Name Redacted]
Stark continues to impress; he's like Jenkins without the weird (and often-irrelevant) anti-Mormon bias. The premise of this book is: that neither the growth of Christianity nor the Christianization of the Roman Empire required divine or imperial intervention. He uses the information which we possess to demonstrate that the growth of Christianity occurred quite naturally, did not require any mass public conversions, and that Emperor Constantine's Edict of Toleration and death-bed conversion were ...more
Douglas Wilson
Nov 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
A really worthwhile read. Stark covers a lot of territory in explaining the rise of Christianity, from epidemics to class strata. Very fine work.
Esther | braveliteraryworld
Jan 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: religious, nonfiction
Eye opening. Systematic. Showed me just how little I know about church history.
Jan 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
An excellent synthesis of Stark's sociological work examining the rise of Christianity in the first few hundred years of its existence. His strength is bringing sociological theory to bear in explaining how Christianity rose from a few dozen disciples to a couple of billion. At the same time, he points out that Christian doctrine was essential to its sociological success; without it, Christianity wouldn't be here, and sociology wouldn't have anything to say about it. One aspect that could do wit ...more
Jul 03, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one.
This book isn't worth anyone's time. Stark makes untenable assumptions about the numbers and growth rates of ancient Christianity. He clearly misundertands the context and complexity of life and religions in the ancient world. His conclusions are supersessionist and dangerous because the assumption of Christian "victory" is dangerous given the history of anti-Judaism, anti-Islamic, anti-pagan violence in antiquity, modernity and the contemporary political situation.

The following is the conclusio
david shin
Mar 15, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Coming from a professor at a secular institution, initially I thought it was a fairly academic and unbiased approach to early Christianity. There's an attempt to use social research methods to quantify and justify findings of early Christianity's rise among the middle class rather than the popular belief that Christianity rose among the poorest.

However, I have come to be very skeptical of the author after his subsequent releases, which are titled (and I'm not making this up), "The Victory of Re
Feb 20, 2009 rated it liked it
This is a solid book, a thoughtful and well-argued discussion about why Christianity eventually became the main religion of the West. Written from the perspective of a sociologist who has done extensive fieldwork in modern religions, The Rise of Christianity is an interesting and valuable contribution to people with an interest in late Classical and early Christian history.

All in all, the book is highly favorable towards Christianity, at basically every turn arguing that specific beliefs and val
Feb 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Question: how did a small, ragtag group of cultists who worshiped a deified Jesus became a powerful, world religion within only a few hundred years? This book provides an answer.

As a sociologist of religion, Rodney Stark approaches the question of Christianity's rise from a demographics perspective. For example, he documents how early Christianity seems to have attracted a surplus of women vs. men. He then explains that intermarriages between Christian women and Pagan men offered opportunities f
Jordan J. Andlovec
May 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
The first book I would recommend for someone interested in the social structure of early Christianity. Stark demythologizes many of the modern assumptions and cultural "urban legends" regarding how Christianity rose to prominence.
Etienne OMNES
Apr 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Rodney Stark est un sociologue spécialisé dans les religions, qui s'est attelé à faire une exposition sociologique de la montée du Christianisme.
Je dois avouer avoir eu des craintes concernant ce livre: volontairement vulgarisé, par quelqu'un qui n'est pas spécialiste de l'histoire, je craignais que ce livre soit une mauvaise apologétique de l'église primitive.

Et bien non, et ce fut une très agréable surprise. Rodney Stark explique lui-même avoir choisi la vulgarisation pour "que les historiens
Wes Smith
May 28, 2018 rated it it was ok
The Rise of Christianity is an interesting look at Christianity from the viewpoint of a sociologist. Starke explains how Christianity grew looking at different aspects like the role of women, martyrs, and epidemics. Starke does a good job describing the Roman culture and comparing it to the culture of the early church. At times the book can be a big technical with sociology terms. Also for the most part Starke doesn't factor in the supernatural in his explanation of the spread of Christianity. I ...more
David Nichols
Mar 04, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed
This provocative study of the early Christian church made a bit of a splash when it appeared in the 1990s, though I've seen few references to it since then, even though the author's use of social-network analysis (an obscure concept twenty years ago) has become even more relevant in the Facebook era. Stark is a sociologist who admitted to limited expertise in history and theology, but nonetheless had read widely, thought deeply, and consequently could offer some useful hypotheses to explain the ...more
Mar 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating book, explaining the practical ways Christianity grew so quickly in just a few centuries. Some of these include: networks (conversion through relationships), epidemics, the role given to women (receiving protection, honor, rights), fertility (as set against the infanticide, abortion and birth control culture of Rome), concentrated ministry in cities of chaos and crisis, martyrdom and Christian rewards. I did not fully realize until reading this what a filthy, perverted, ter ...more
Mar 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
An excellent sociologist's view about the factors that helped Christianity rise in the early church. While we all know the fact is that God and Christ are responsible for the growth of the church, this book helps me better understand what God used to set the foundations that helped the early church grow.

Especially interesting is the contrast of the early Christian and Pagan worlds. Why do Christians take care of people with the plague while their pagan counterparts abandoned whole cities and fa
Sep 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015-read
This was a great history book that did not feel like a history book. Stark does a great job keeping the chapters simple to understand and extremely interesting. My favorite quote in the book was:

"Christianity did not grow because of miracle working in the marketplaces, although there may have been much of that going on, or because Constantine said it should, or even because the martyrs gave it such credibility. It grew because Christians constituted an intense community. The primary means of its
Apr 20, 2014 rated it liked it
Three things I enjoyed most from the book:
1) His accounting and analysis of the plagues that hit the empire in second and third centuries, and how that put Christians in a powerful position to "stand in the gap"...and then fill it.
2) The descriptions of cities and city life that the early church existed in
3) The role that women and birth rates played in Christianization.

I appreciated Stark's efforts to apply quantitative discipline to early church history, even if some of his findings seem a bi
Oct 19, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010, apologetics
This is an excellent review of the history of the rise of Christianity in the first few centuries. Stark argues that the Jews continued to convert to Christianity into the fifth century, shows how two plagues worked to increase the percentage of Christians in the empire, shows that practically Christianity was a more fulfilling religion than the paganism practiced in the empire, and more. Stark wrote this prior to his conversion to Christianity, so the explanations are those of a materialist soc ...more
Jeffrey Backlin
Nov 16, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: sociology
I typically really enjoy Stark, I think I've nearly finished all his books by now. This work, however, fell flat it seems to me. In this book, Stark applies general principles of sociology to the history of the rise of Christianity to explain how this movement spread amongst the Roman and pagan peoples (as well as the Jews). Frankly, a lot of the arguments seems at best possible, and at worst weak extrapolations with little evidence. I did enjoy the first and last chapters, but all in all, I was ...more
Javier G.-Verdugo
Apr 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Impresive book, well written and highly enlightening! I particularly enjoyed the use of statistics and and of an economic approach to the question of the evolution of Christianity during the first three centuries of our era. I vividly recommend it to all interested in the history of the Greco-Roman world and the evolution and influence of Christianity.
Brittany Petruzzi
Such a cool treatment of the early history of Christianity from a professed non-Christian. [March 2008]

Once again God uses ordinary means to bring about miraculous results. Not unlike the everyday miracles of falling in love or giving birth, only Stark gives us the (very) wide angle lens with which to see it all. Spectacular. Faithfulness in the everyday; that's how God grows His church.
Steven Wedgeworth
Jun 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
A really great sociological treatment of the growth of the early church. It also points out some of their major emphases. Stark's views are slightly contradicted by James Davison Hunter, but still worth reading.
G.M. Burrow
Jun 12, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Stark isn't a believer, but his research is solid and his point is a good one. Too many Christians think their own faith simply "is", rather than understanding the historical, social and political forces that caused it to be what it is today.
Brian White
Sep 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Great work on the environment of early Christianity - cities, treatment of women,... Jesus and His followers greatly impacted the Roman world for the better.
Jun 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Stark's approach to analyzing the first century of Christian history is based on sociology. He isn't polemical or anti-spiritual, but takes the position that the remarkable growth of the early church can be better understood through a sociological lens than a purely supernatural one.

Chapter 1 makes the case that Christianity grew at a rate that is acceptable from a sociological standpoint given modern examples of religious growth (the Mormons, in particular). Whereas the common narrative (that
Dan Walker
Nov 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Mr. Stark produces a truly stunning view into how and why Christianity conquered the Roman empire and paganism (and Judaism, really) in a matter of a few short centuries, all without the benefit of military conquest. This book has huge implications not just for current conversions but for our secular world as well. It also provides a window into the pagan worldview, one that is shocking, even chilling.

There are multiple reasons why Christianity made such a dramatic rise, from continuous convers
Jan 12, 2017 rated it did not like it
I wanted to like it. I was excited to read it, as it can be difficult to find good books on Church history. I realize he isn't an historian or archaeologist, so I didn't expect him to approach things from that perspective. However, even with approaching it like a sociologist, one cannot ignore good historical research methods. At one point he came up with a model and said he'd show what should have happened and then show evidence that that is what did happen, but in history, you should look at t ...more
Caleb Ausbury
Jun 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity offers an insightful look through a sociological lens at the historical rise of Christianity. While Stark lacks a critical approach to the ancient sources he analyzes, his book nonetheless is a valuable tool for thinking about how Christianity spread in the Roman Empire as a new religious movement.
Stark sets out to understand how Christianity spread like it did. In his first chapter, he proposes an estimated growth rate of 40% per decade based on histor
Leila Chandler
Jul 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a great book and everyone should read it. It is written by a non-Christian sociologist, and gives a fascinating perspective on why Christianity was so successful. If nothing else, you should read the chapters on the role of women and the effects of plague. For people who think Christianity was bad for women, this book would open their eyes. I had no idea the Greco-Roman culture was that depraved. I knew it was bad, but not that bad! This book helped me see how Christianity introduced th ...more
Aug 17, 2018 rated it it was ok
Bourgeois philosophy and later, bourgeois social science, share an established history of occasionally directing their studies towards the mysteries that are erected to protect Christianity from rational analysis and discussion. It therefore seems very radical to read an account of religious conversion and martyrdom based on a material reality composed of social networks, plagues, urban decay and bad plumbing. Ludwig Feuerbach must have cut a similar dash, but his star soon faded and Stark, for ...more
May 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
While it strips out any conversation about spiritual or supernatural influences, as a sociologist (probably) must, Stark gives reasoned and compelling explanations for why Christianity grew from an obscure sect to the dominant cultural force by the end of the Roman era. Part of that massive growth was because the beliefs that Christians adhered to had great influence on their demographics, health and welfare and were so starkly different than the rest of the pagan world.

Not as casually readable
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Rodney Stark grew up in Jamestown, North Dakota, and began his career as a newspaper reporter. Following a tour of duty in the U.S. Army, he received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, where he held appointments as a research sociologist at the Survey Research Center and at the Center for the Study of Law and Society. He left Berkeley to become Professor of Sociology and of Compa ...more