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Why God?

Explaining Religious Phenomena

Rodney Stark

Why is it that the majority of people, from all socio-economic, education, and ethnic backgrounds, ascribe to some sort of faith? What draws us to religion? What pushes us away? And what exactly is religion anyway?

Defining religion over the past century has, ironically, led to theories that exclude belief in God, proposing that all systems of thought concerning the meaning of life are religions. Of course, this makes it impossible to distinguish the village priest from the village atheist, or Communism from Catholicism.  Worse yet, it makes all religious behavior irrational, presuming that, for example, people knowingly pray to an empty sky.

Renowned sociologist of religion Rodney Stark offers a comprehensive, decisive, God-centered theory of religion in his book, Why God?: Explaining Religious Phenomena. While his intent is not to insist that God exists, Stark limits religions to systems of thought based on belief in supernatural beings—to Gods.  With this God-focused theory, Stark explores the entire range of religious topics, including the rise of monotheism, the discovery of sin, causes of religious hostility and conflict, and the role of revelations. 

Each chapter of Why God? builds a comprehensive framework, starting with the foundations of human motivations and ending with an explanation of why most people are religious. Stark ultimately settles what religion is, what it does, and why it is a universal feature of human societies.

Why God? is a much needed guide for anyone who wants a thorough understanding of religion and our relationship to it, as well as a firm refutation to those who think religion can exist without the divine. 

Acknowledgments / vii
Introduction: Ungodly “Theories” and Scurrilous Metaphors / 1
Chapter 1: The Elements of Faith / 17
Chapter 2: Monotheism and Morality / 49
Chapter 3: Religious Experiences, Miracles, and Revelations / 71
Chapter 4: The Rise and Fall of Religious Movements / 103
Chapter 5: Church and Sect: Religious Group Dynamics / 131
Chapter 6: Ecclesiastical Influences / 161
Chapter 7: Religious Hostility and Civility / 181
Chapter 8: Individual Causes and Consequences of Religiousness / 211
Chapter 9: Meaning and Metaphysics / 231
Appendix: Propositions, Definitions, and Deductions / 237
Notes / 261
Bibliography / 267
Index / 281

Why God is a dazzling answer to the question of religion's persistence in the world despite one premature obituary after another. Everyone who wonders what the future holds for Christianity should read this book—and for that matter, every other book by the essential Rodney Stark.

Mary Eberstadt, author of How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization

Stark makes a strong case that the main causal power of religion comes from belief in a conscious supernatural being with whom humans can communicate, and that other conceptions of the supernatural greatly weaken churches and their social effects. The book effectively synthesizes a lifetime of Stark's religious theory and research.

Randall Collins, author of Interaction Ritual Chains

With his usual combination of insight and brio, Rodney Stark demonstrates why most of the prevailing theories of religion in the social sciences are inadequate—or simply worthless—because they fail to take seriously the role played by the divine. Drawing on a lifetime of work which has shown the centrality of the supernatural in the social scientific study of religion, Stark reveals why the search for explanations and rewards shapes the faith in and guides the exchanges that people seek with supernatural beings.

Steve Pfaff, PhD, professor of sociology, University of Washington – Seattle

Professor Stark returns to theory construction in a domain—the study of religion—that tends to avoid it. He has no patience for the ‘least common denominator’ approach to understanding religious belief. Stark is not afraid of being wrong, and that makes him far more apt than his peers of getting it right.

Mark Regnerus, PhD, associate professor of sociology, University of Texas at Austin

Another milestone publication in the scientific study of religion, Rodney Stark explains the nature and values of religion under modernization and globalization through his exceptional logic and latest data. Readers all over the world will be inspired and deepen their understanding of religion in twenty first century.

Dedong WEI, professor of studies of religion, Renmin University of China

PJ Media-May 3, 2017

“Religion is alive and well across the globe, and Why God? presented an excellent theory as to how and why religious belief is an enduring aspect of human life. In the book, Stark suggested that his ideas are a sociological theory of religion, and he encouraged further research to prove him wrong and develop an even more nuanced understanding of religion. . . . As long as humans have hearts to demand moral goodness and minds to wonder at the universe, they will also have a need for God, Stark suggested. Religion, it seems, is as unavoidable as death and taxes.”

Tyler O'Neil

Journey–June 14, 2017

"Sociologist of religion Rodney Stark offers a sympathetic explanation of why people might come to believe in God that is refreshingly free of jargon and a corrective to more hostile accounts of belief, and which will still illuminate much for those of us within the walls of churches."

Nick Mattiske

Midwest Book Review–June, 2017

"Drawing upon his years of experience and expertise as a renowned sociologist of religion, Professor Stark offers a comprehensive, decisive, God-centered theory of religion. While his intent is not to insist that God exists, Professor Stark limits religions to systems of thought based on belief in supernatural beings—to Gods. With this God-focused theory, Professor Stark explores the entire range of religious topics, including the rise of monotheism, the discovery of sin, causes of religious hostility and conflict, and the role of revelations.

Impressively informed and informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking, and thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation, Why God?: Explaining Religious Phenomena is an exceptional work of outstanding scholarship that will have particular interest and relevance for clergy, academics, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in religion, belief systems, and faith-based relationships as a part of the human experience. While very highly recommended for personal, community and academic library Religion/Spirituality collections and supplemental studies lists, it should be noted that Why God? is also available in a Kindle format."

John Burroughs

Deep Waters–July 10, 2017

"Starks book is worth reading. . . There is plenty of helpful information and food for thought in here."

Nick Peters

Midwest Book Review—July, 2017

“An informed and informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking guide for anyone who wants a thorough understanding of religion and our relationship to it, as well as a firm refutation to those who think religion can exist without the divine, will find "Why God?" to be an absorbing read from beginning to end. A masterpiece of seminal scholarship” 

Able Greenspan