Posted by: aboutalbion | October 16, 2012

Social theories about the early church

Rodney Stark now discusses attempts to reconstruct history from social scientific theories.

Stark wishes to emphasize that “[m]etaphors, typologies, and concepts are passive …” and are not explanations which might contribute to the reconstruction of history. (p25)

Stark refers to several attempts to fill out the early history of Christianity with reference to inappropriate models.  He cites ‘religion is society worshipping itself’ as an empty metaphor because it is not capable of being falsified.  He cites the use of the word ‘sect’ as a type of circular argument.  For example, an apparent argument that states “that a particular religious body rejects the world because it is a sect” is a circular argument “since bodies are classified as sects because they reject the world”. (p25)

Instead, Stark insists that theories with propositions that link concepts are needed in order to formulate potential explanations.  He follows Popper in contending that “[e]xplanations require theories: abstract statements saying why and how some set of phenomena are linked, and from which falsifiable statements can be derived”. (p25)

I’m reading Stark’s work because the early history of Christianity is unrecorded.  There is a gap of around 150 years between the alleged activities of a person named Saul or Paul and a collection of letters allegedly written by him in the codex known today as papyrus 46 (and dated around 200 CE).  If the careful use of sociological theories can make a contribution to the reconstruction of this dark tunnel of unrecorded history, then I will consider using them.

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

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