Introduction to Sociology of Religion

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    Stark, Rodney

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    Atheism, Faith, and the Social Scientific Study of Religion

    "The social 'scientific' study of religion originated in atheism and the basic thesis pursued today, especially by psychologists and anthropologists, are little changed since they were first proposed by militant opponents of religion in the seventeenth and early eighteenth century. In this essay I trace these links from major scholar to major scholar across the centuries. I then examine the remarkable irony that the recent emergence of a truly scientific approach to religion was accomplished mainly by an influx of 'believers.' I sketch why and how this happened before turning to an assessment of the persistence of atheistic biases. I conclude with suggestions about how a truly scientific study of religion can be pursued by both believers and unbelievers, if not fanatics of either stripe."
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    Stark, Rodney, Laurence R. Iannaccone, and Roger Finke

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    Religion, Science, and Rationality

    "A fundamental debate has surfaced within the social-scientific study of religion. Though fueled by new, economic models of religious behavior, the debate finds its origins in a growing body of empirical findings. These findings challenge the received wisdom that religious beliefs and behavior are grounded in primitive, pre-scientific, and non-rational thinking. The distorting force of the received wisdom is underscored by the body of “stylized facts” that it has spawned. For example: (1) religion must inevitably decline as science and technology advance; (2) individuals become less religious and more skeptical of faith-based claims as they acquire more education, particularly more familiarity with science; and (3) membership in deviant religions is usually the consequence of indoctrination (leading to aberrant values) or abnormal psychology (due to trauma, neurosis, or unmet needs)...Our review of traditional claims and contemporary data leads us to conclude that standard social-scientific theories of religious behavior have accorded unwarranted status to the assumption of nonrationality. The view of religion as nonrational, not to mention irrational, emerged from a 19th century scholarly tradition largely devoid of empirical support and tainted by prejudice, ignorance, and antireligious sentiment."