Posted by: aboutalbion | October 10, 2012

Convert profile model of the early church

Rodney Stark’s account of the first three centuries of Christianity continues with research into the background of converts to new religious movements.

Stark’s case study was the growth of the Moonies in San Francisco in the latter part of the 20th century.  After conversion, converts were asked why they converted, and the most popular type of answer mentioned the attractiveness of the ‘Divine Principles’ (which is the rule book for Moonies).

However, Stark  concludes that this stress on the ideology of the Moonies was also part of the process of conversion.  Stark had previous interviews with these converts when they first came into the movement’s orbit (and before their conversion), together with others who had expressed an initial interest in the Moonies but had not converted.

Stark evidenced that those who has an effective commitment to another organized religion did not (with rare exception) convert, while those who had ‘no use for church at all’ were highly likely to convert.  This result mirrors intuition in relation to politics or religion.  “… people who are deeply committed to any particular faith do not go out and join some other faith.” (p19)  Stark states this as a sociological proposition:

New religious movements mainly draw their converts from the ranks of the religiously inactive and discontented, and those affiliated with the most accommodated (worldly) religious communities.” (p19)

Again, using the assumption that humans in large groups behave in the same way (across cultures and across millennia), Stark’s work suggests the nascent Christ movement would have had opportunities to proselytize when commitment to Judaism was weakest.  It would not surprise me if those conditions prevailed in the aftermath of the Roman destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE, after the Roman capture of Masada a few years later, and as a result of the series of anti-Jewish measures taken by the Roman authorities from 115 CE to 136 CE.

[Stark, Rodney (1997) The Rise of Christianity.  New York: HarperOne.]


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