Posted by: aboutalbion | October 29, 2012

Class commitment revision of religion

Durkheim, Marx and Weber are generally regarded as the founders of the modern study of sociology.  And social class – a group of people with similar status, influence, and wealth – is one of the categories used in sociology.

For the next step in his explanation of Christian origins, Rodney Stark needs to refer to sociological theory that links social class with religious commitment.

He cites the founders of sociology [above] as being responsible for promoting the deprivation thesis.  This is the view “that religious commitment served primarily to assuage the suffering of the poor and deprived”. (p35)

Stark himself was in the vanguard of modern sociologists who went into the field in the 1960s to do survey studies, who found that the poor and deprived were “conspicuously absent” from church attendance, and who contributed to the deprivation thesis being significantly revised. (p35)

For his analysis, Stark divided religious commitment into three distinguishable scales – belief in life after death, membership of a religious organization, and the self-reporting of religious experiences.

(a)  Stark found no association between social class and belief in life after death.  When this scale is theorized as a religious compensation that is categorically unavailable to any human being, Stark formulated the following proposition:

“Persons and groups [without regard to their social class] will tend to accept religious compensators for rewards that do not exist in this world.” (p36)

(b)  Stark found a positive association between social class and membership of a religious organization (and attendance at meetings).  Religious organisations as commercial enterprises are able to offer direct rewards to some members in the form of “status, income, self-esteem, social relations, entertainment, and a host of other things they value”. (p36)  When this scale is theorized as a source of direct reward to members, Stark formulated the following proposition:

“[The social class] of an individual or group will be positively associated with control of religious organizations and with gaining the rewards available from religious organizations.” (p36)

(c)  Stark found a negative association between social class and the self-reporting of religious experiences (and the frequency of personal prayer).  When this scale is theorized as a religious compensation for desirable rewards (such as health and wealth) that are scarce, that is, enjoyed by some and not others, Stark formulated the following proposition:

[The social class] of an individual or group will be negatively associated with acceptance of religious compensators for rewards that actually exist.” (p36)

Stark’s evidenced conclusions follow from the premise “that religion can in fact compensate people for their inability to gain certain things they desire”. (p35)

His conclusions are (a) that the rich and the poor are just as likely to be religious on the first scale, (b) that the rich are more likely to be religious than the poor on the second scale, and (c) that the poor are more likely to be religious than the rich on the third scale.

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

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