Posted by: aboutalbion | February 27, 2013

The mimetic basis of religious risk analysis (2)

Rodney Stark’s second proposition about the mimetic grounds which influence individuals about whether or not to join an organized religion is the ‘organizational proposition’.

Individuals perceive a religious compensator as less risky, and hence more valuable, when it is promoted, produced, or consumed collectively.” (p172)

In his view, individuals “will tend to accept a value [of a religious compensator] that is an average of the levels of confidence expressed by those with whom they interact …  [So] this helps explain high levels of commitment – which can be analysed as high levels of investment to keep compensators in force – sustained by congregations that are very strict about their confessional requirements of membership.” (p172f)

It is this line of reasoning (that correlates rule adherence with commitment) that leads Stark to conclude that “religion is almost always [an organized] social phenomenon”. (p173)  And it chimes in with what a retired Bishop of the Church of England [now dead] once told me: “religious enthusiasm only runs in narrow channels”.

Stark’s emphasis on the organizational dimension of religion follows from his endorsement of the economic standpoint that “religion is a collectively produced commodity”. (p173)  In addition to corporate meetings for liturgical readings and prayers, and for sermons and songs, it is Stark’s view “that religious faith itself is a social product, collectively produced and maintained”. (p173)

This approach echoes that of the Sea of Faith Network in the UK, whose strapline is “Exploring and promoting religious faith as a human creation…”.

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

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