Sunday, December 27, 2009

Stark, Statistics, and the Early Church

In Cities of God (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), popular sociologist Rodney Stark attempts to bring quantitative, statistical analysis to bear on the study of the history of early Christian expansion. The description of the 'triumph' of Christianity, Stark argues, is incomplete, indeed unscientific, without the utilization of quantitative methods. "A major purpose of this book," writes Stark, "is to demonstrate that quantitative methods can help to resolve many debates about early church history" (22). He explains the book attempts "to identify adequate, quantifiable indicators of key concepts and then to properly test important hypotheses" (22, emphasis original). In so doing, the chapters of the book "will attempt to place the rise of Christianity within the appropriate social and cultural contexts, but they will do so in a more fully social scientific way than as ever been attempted" (22). Although the book is a provocative protreptic exercise, the book ultimately fails to convince because the author has not understood the pitfalls of the field he attempts to address.