Cover image for For the glory of God : how monotheism led to reformations, science, witch-hunts, and the end of slavery
For the glory of God : how monotheism led to reformations, science, witch-hunts, and the end of slavery
Stark, Rodney.
Personal Author:
First Paperback Printing.
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 2004.

Physical Description:
x, 488 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Introduction: dimensions of the supernatural -- God's truth: inevitable sects and reformations -- God's handiwork: the religious origins of science -- God's enemies: explaining the European witch-hunts -- God's justice: the sin of slavery -- Postscript: gods, ritual and social science.
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BL221 .S747 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Rodney Stark's provocative new book argues that, whether we like it or not, people acting for the glory of God have formed our modern culture. Continuing his project of identifying the widespread consequences of monotheism, Stark shows that the Christian conception of God resulted--almost inevitably and for the same reasons--in the Protestant Reformation, the rise of modern science, the European witch-hunts, and the Western abolition of slavery. In the process, he explains why Christian and Islamic images of God yielded such different cultural results, leading Christians but not Muslims to foster science, burn "witches," and denounce slavery.

With his usual clarity and skepticism toward the received wisdom, Stark finds the origins of these disparate phenomena within monotheistic religious organizations. Endemic in such organizations are pressures to maintain religious intensity, which lead to intense conflicts and schisms that have far-reaching social results.

Along the way, Stark debunks many commonly accepted ideas. He interprets the sixteenth-century flowering of science not as a sudden revolution that burst religious barriers, but as the normal, gradual, and direct outgrowth of medieval theology. He also shows that the very ideas about God that sustained the rise of science led also to intense witch-hunting by otherwise clear-headed Europeans, including some celebrated scientists. This conception of God likewise yielded the Christian denunciation of slavery as an abomination--and some of the fiercest witch-hunters were devoted participants in successful abolitionist movements on both sides of the Atlantic.

For the Glory of God is an engrossing narrative that accounts for the very different histories of the Christian and Muslim worlds. It fundamentally changes our understanding of religion's role in history and the forces behind much of what we point to as secular progress.

Author Notes

Rodney Stark was for many years Professor of Sociology and of Comparative Religion at the University of Washington. In 2004 he became University Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University. He is the author of many books, among them The Rise of Christianity and One True God (both Princeton).

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Say good-bye to the old chestnut about how Columbus defied centuries of religious superstition by asserting the roundness of the earth. In this second volume of his study of the global effects of monotheism, sociologist Stark exposes the Columbus story as a mendacious fiction popularized by Enlightenment historians trying to depict Christianity as an obstacle to progress. Because of the remarkable success of these propagandists, Stark must scrape away many layers of antireligious prejudice to identify the true effects of Christian doctrine. To be sure, those effects included horrors: a deadly theological logic sent thousands to fiery deaths for the supposed offense of witchcraft. But Stark lets no reader dismiss the witch-burners as merely hysterical zealots: he adduces strong evidence linking the hunt for witches to the birth of modern science. He further disquiets readers by emphasizing the prominence of orthodox witch-burners in the earliest attempts to abolish slavery. Why do Americans know so little about the complex ways in which Christian dogmas have shaped our cultural past? Stark blames his own secular-minded colleagues, who have generally ignored the motive power of religious belief. This provocative volume--lucid and tightly reasoned--amply atones for their error. --Bryce Christensen Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

In One True God: Historical Consequences of Monotheism, sociologist of religion Stark examined the nature of God, the wrath of God, the kingdom of God, the grace of God and the "chosen" of God. In this follow-up volume to his ambitious magnum opus, Stark investigates the role of monotheistic religions in reformations, witch-hunts, slavery and science. Such efforts represent an attempt by monotheistic religions to preserve the idea of the One True God against corrupting influences inside and outside the religions themselves. Stark asserts that, contrary to traditional notions, no single religious reformation can be isolated in any monotheistic religion. Thus, Christianity has experienced not simply the Reformation of Luther but many and various reformations that resulted in a diversity of sectarian movements that practice the worship of the One True God in their own ways. Stark also argues that science could have evolved only out of a monotheistic culture that viewed the world as God's handiwork, and that the witch-hunts of Europe could have taken place only in a culture marred by religious conflict and motivated by the desire to displace heretical religious sects. Despite its purported general focus on monotheistic religions, however, the book devotes very little attention to Islam or Judaism, a serious omission in a study that claims to cover so much ground. In addition, Stark's turgid prose and social-scientific style mar what otherwise could have been an engaging study. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

In this second volume on monotheism, Stark (Univ. of Washington) questions the prevailing Durkheimian, sociological tradition that sees religion as merely an expression of social solidarity. Rejecting intellectualist views, Durkheim dismissed belief in gods as an irrelevant epiphenomenon. But Stark thinks such functionalism fails to acknowledge that beliefs have social repercussions; beliefs are not merely a reflection of material factors or a legitimating ideology. Stark argues that belief in one personal, all-encompassing Being resulted in sects and reformations, the rise of science, the abolition of slavery, and the witch hunts. The main weakness is that Stark privileges Christianity and does not sufficiently discuss how Jewish and Islamic monotheism had analogous effects on the societies where they were dominant. Moreover, some would not consider Christianity, with its doctrine of the Trinity, truly monotheistic, but Stark ignores the issue even though it has been a point of contention within Christianity itself (Arianism, Unitarianism). However, Stark refreshingly goes against the current of much scholarly opinion that holds that monotheistic religions have had a negative impact on the world. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Undergraduates. C. R. Piar California State University, Long Beach

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. vii
Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introduction: Dimensions of the Supernaturalp. 1
Chapter 1 God's Truth: Inevitable Sects and Reformationsp. 15
Chapter 2 God's Handiwork: The Religious Origins of Sciencep. 121
Chapter 3 God's Enemies: Explaining the European Witch-Huntsp. 201
Chapter 4 God's Justice: The Sin of Slaveryp. 291
Postscript: Gods, Rituals, and Social Sciencep. 367
Notesp. 377
Bibliographyp. 419
Indexp. 465