Rodney Stark, historian and sociologist, has written one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time, For the Glory of God.  However, I recently found his lecture The Market Approach to Understanding Religion.  He has some really interesting things to say, including:
  • Religious Monopolies:  Religious monopolies are never natural – they always come by coercion – either by outright force, or subtle hindrances, like not allowing building permits, etc.
  • The Secularization Thesis:  Most sociologists and anthropologists have predicted (and hoped for) the inevitable disappearance of religion from the earth as science progresses.  This was based on the decline of the church in Europe.  However, the U.S. has been a pernicious exception to their theory.  But the collapse of the Soviet Union and the evangelization of Central America proved them wrong.  After the collapse of the 70-year Soviet experiment, it turned out that only 10% of Russians were atheists.   As it turns out, Europe may be the exception, or may have a sick religious economy, i.e. European church attendance is low not because people don’t believe, but because the churches are not offering what the religious market wants, primarily because the clergy is lazy.
  • Secular Iceland? – Only 2% are actually atheists.  So many people believe in small supernatural creatures such as elves and fairies that highways have been rerouted to avoid rocks and hills where they are said to dwell.

However, the rest of the lecture is not too exciting.   However, during the Q&A sessions, he was asked about Islam, to which he said
One of the great mistakes that we make in the West when we look at Islam is the same mistake they make when they look at us – we see a Monolith….There is a real amount of sectarianism and pluralism within Islam.  Now, the state involvement in the past has been bad for them….Most everyone didn’t go to the Mosque until it was mixed with nationalism….Islam swept over North Africa….it was many many generations before people in those societies actually, officially became Muslims.  But politically, it was completely Muslim.