Monday, May 28, 2012

Social scientists and religion, not a good brew

Have been enjoying sociologist Rodney Stark's book on the rise of Christianity. Something of a pioneer in his field, he applies social science theory to how the church grew in its first few centuries and it's enlightening stuff, even if you think, as I do, that a display of maths is only as good as its underlying assumptions and often social science's underlying assumptions aren't very good.

But Rodney Stark also has the insight to say about his fellow practitioners what many of us have often thought (or possibly hoped):

... until recently, the social scientific study of religion was nothing of the sort. The field was far more concerned with discrediting religion that with understanding it. This is clear when it is realized that only in the area of religious belief and behavior have social scientists not based their theories on a rational choice premise. Indeed my colleagues and I recently showed that antagonism toward all forms of religion and the conviction that it must soon disappear in an enlightened world were articles of faith among the earliest social scientists, and that today social scientists are far less likely to be religious than are scholars in other areas, especially those in the physical and natural sciences (Stark, Iannaccone, and Finke, 1995).