Cover image for One true God : historical consequences of monotheism
One true God : historical consequences of monotheism
Stark, Rodney.
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Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
319 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
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BL221 .S75 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Western history would be unrecognizable had it not been for people who believed in One True God. There would have been wars, but no religious wars. There would have been moral codes, but no Commandments. Had the Jews been polytheists, they would today be only another barely remembered people, less important, but just as extinct as the Babylonians. Had Christians presented Jesus to the Greco-Roman world as ''another'' God, their faith would long since have gone the way of Mithraism. And surely Islam would never have made it out of the desert had Muhammad not removed Allah from the context of Arab paganism and proclaimed him as the only God.

The three great monotheisms changed everything. With his customary clarity and vigor, Rodney Stark explains how and why monotheism has such immense power both to unite and to divide. Why and how did Jews, Christians, and Muslims missionize, and when and why did their efforts falter? Why did both Christianity and Islam suddenly become less tolerant of Jews late in the eleventh century, prompting outbursts of mass murder? Why were the Jewish massacres by Christians concentrated in the cities along the Rhine River, and why did the pogroms by Muslims take place mainly in Granada? How could the Jews persist so long as a minority faith, able to withstand intense pressures to convert? Why did they sometimes assimilate? In the final chapter, Stark also examines the American experience to show that it is possible for committed monotheists to sustain norms of civility toward one another.

A sweeping social history of religion, One True God shows how the great monotheisms shaped the past and created the modern world.

Author Notes

Rodney Stark is Professor of Sociology and of Comparative Religion at the University of Washington.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Christianity has been no more intolerant than other monotheisms, Stark maintains, and the particularism of monotheisms has been essential to their survival. As faiths become more universalistic, and their concepts of God more diffuse, they evaporate. The particularistic religions that persist then become particular problems for pluralistic societies containing them. Subsequent intolerance occurs in times and places where balance among particularist religious communities breaks down; minority communities in those circumstances become victims of violence said to be "collateral" --an explanation that rarely satisfies. Stark's conception of civility as public moderation of particularism is intriguing, and his sociology of religion blends James Madison's analysis of factions and Adam Smith's faith in the market's invisible hand, which calls for a proliferation of "sacred umbrellas" rather than a "sacred canopy." Those who believe the most civil society is one in which intense debate is possible should take Stark's book in one hand, Burton Mack's Christian Myth [BKL S 1 01] in the other (together they shed considerable light on the controversy over monotheism's significance), and let it rain. --Steven Schroeder

Publisher's Weekly Review

Long established as a leading sociologist of American religion, Stark has in recent years extended his methodology into increasingly speculative territory. Here he follows up his inquiry into the origins of Christianity with an even more ambitious project: a grand theory of the social and political effects of monotheism in every corner of the globe since the time of the Pharaoh Akhenaten. None of Stark's claims is particularly novel or subtle, and many of them seem just plain wrong. People, he asserts, are more satisfied with rational, dependable, authoritative gods than with pantheons of mercurial deities; therefore, Buddhism died out in India because it was too intellectual and did not offer a satisfying divinity (unlike Hinduism, which Stark declares is really monotheistic, despite much evidence to the contrary). Moreover, members of monotheistic faiths send out missionaries because they think their God is true, and all others false, a presumption that has on occasion led to violence; Jews have resisted conversion over the millennia because they have found solidarity in their common oppression and strength in their monotheism; and pluralism results when members of competing monotheistic faiths decide to set aside their differences to maintain public civility. As an armchair historian, Stark is unconvincing, given to sweeping generalizations and glib overstatements. As an armchair ethnographer, he is often startlingly na?ve. His claim, for example, that rituals are infrequent in polytheistic cultures is based on a poor understanding of ritual. As grand theories go, this is shallow stuff. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

There are observable social consequences of monotheism, argues Stark (sociology, Univ. of Washington; The Rise of Christianity). Monotheistic faith can unite people in great or terrible undertakings: to convert others to faith and to struggle for justice or to unite them for crusades and bloody persecutions. It can foster group solidarity, enabling a community to endure centuries as a despised minority amid a hostile society. Is monotheism compatible with civil society? Stark argues that it can be, given plenty of options in a religious marketplace wherein no single religion gains a monopoly. In a book that is a joy to read, Stark firmly sides with the monotheists and the invisible hand of a religious free market. History plays a supporting role, enlisted only to support insights drawn from sociological analysis. Stark is heavy-handed at times, arguing that liberal ministers (who believe in a divine "essence" rather than a personal God) and secularists are the bad guys foes of "authentic" faith. Still, this is a thought-provoking and heartening book; recommended for all collections. Steve Young, McHenry County Coll., Crystal Lake, IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This is a highly theoretical and speculative tertiary work. It is based neither on an investigation of the sacred texts of monotheism(s) nor on an investigation of the subsequent authoritative literatures of these traditions. As such, the book is rather oddly titled; a better subtitle might have been "Musings on the Historical Consequences of Monotheism." Stark (sociology and comparative religion, Univ. of Washington) is also author of The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History (CH, Oct'96) and, with Roger Finke, Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion (2000) and The Churching of America, 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy (CH, Apr'93). Those who are fond of theoretical and speculative exercises will likely find much of interest in this volume; those who seek a discussion of the historical consequences of monotheism based on a careful treatment of the monotheistic traditions themselves will not find what they are looking for. With that qualification, all readership groups. J. E. Lindsay Colorado State University

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. vii
Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introductionp. 1
1 God's Nature: A Theory of Godsp. 9
2 God's Chosen: Monotheism and Missionp. 31
3 God's Wrath: Religious Conflictp. 115
4 God's Kingdom: Religious Persistencep. 175
5 God's Grace: Pluralism and Civilityp. 219
Bibliographyp. 261
Indexp. 303