The Rise of Mormonism

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The R ise of Mormonism

 The Rise of Mormonism 

Rodney Stark edited by

Reid L. Neilson

columbia university press

new york

Columbia University Press Publishers Since 893 New York Chichester, West Sussex Copyright © 2005 Rodney Stark and Reid L, Neilson All rights reserved Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Stark, Rodney. The rise of Mormonism / Rodney Stark ; edited by Reid L. Neilson. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. ) and index. Contents: Extracting social scientific models from Mormon history— Joseph Smith among the revelators—Mormon networks of faith— Rationality and Mormon sacrifice—Modernization, secularization, and Mormon growth—The basis of Mormon success— The rise of a New World faith. ISBN 0–23–3634–X (cloth : alk. paper) . Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—History. 2. Mormon Church—History. 3. United States—Church history. I. Neilson, Reid Larkin. II. Title. BX86.S78 306.6'893—dc22

2005 2005045464

Columbia University Press books are printed on permanent and durable acid-free paper. Printed in the United States of America c 0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 

For Lynne and Shelly

 Contents

Preface by Rodney Stark


Introduction by Reid L. Neilson

. Extracting Social Scientific Models from Mormon History 2. Joseph Smith Among the Revelators 3. Mormon Networks of Faith



4. Rationality and Mormon Sacrifice


5. Modernization, Secularization, and Mormon Growth 6. The Basis of Mormon Success


7. The Rise of a New World Faith 39

Bibliography 47 Further Acknowledgments Index 63




 Preface

If I had it to do again, I am not certain I would have published projections of the possible future growth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Stark 984a). At the time, I regarded the article as minor, intended merely to impose some disciplined reality on the idle chatter about religious movements. I wanted my colleagues to deal only with this issue: When we talk about a growing movement, are we talking about anything important? That is, if LDS membership continues to grow at the rate it has been doing for some time, how big will it become in, say, a century? Vaguely aware of the implications of exponential growth, I knew the number would be large. However, I was not prepared for a figure such as 64 million (the low estimate), let alone 267 million (the high estimate). And I am absolutely astonished that two decades later it is the high estimate that best approximates what has taken place. Even after all the attention paid to these projections I continue to regard them as among the least important things I have learned from and about the Mormons. It would have been sufficient to have said, “Without any doubt, the Mormons are destined to become a large religious group, with a significant membership around the world.” That statement would have been adequate to emphasize the importance of the Mormons to those wishing to understand successful religious movements. And it is sufficiently vague not to have attracted attention. But it is too late now, and so my “notorious” numbers translate into unwelcome calls from the media whenever they think of something new to say about or to blame on the Latter-day Saints. The last few weeks before the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics were dreadful. Most of the news

x preface

people who called had their agenda down pat, knew exactly what quotation they wanted from me, and were uneducable. They knew the LDS Church had brought the Olympics to Utah to “brainwash” thousands of visitors into joining their faith. I told many of them that if Mormon missionaries could work such miracles, the press would not be calling me, since, for obvious reasons, the press would have been the very first targets of LDS “brainwashing.” But they simply didn’t get it. Fortunately, every sportswriter who called me got it immediately, recognized it as giving the knockout punch to brainwashing charges, and went on to write sensible things about the Mormons. Do all the smart journalism majors flee into the sports departments? Nevertheless, Reid Neilson made the right choice in emphasizing my membership projections in his introduction, since the responses to them caused me to do more significant work on Mormons. Reid also made the right choice in placing the projections at the very end of the book. That there is a book was also his decision. Off and on I had considered pulling together all my scattered work on the Mormons. But year after year I found new subjects and new projects, and my “Mormon book” remained at most a vague and distant “maybe.” The proposition that someone else would do all the work was unexpected and very welcome. I suppose I might have done a few things slightly differently from the way Reid has done them, but the larger truth is that I probably would have done nothing at all! I am delighted with his careful and creative efforts. I would be remiss if I failed to mention how I came to know about the Mormons and to dabble in the sociology of Mormonism. The short answer is that I was in graduate school with Armand Mauss, now retired from Washington State University. Armand comes from an old and distinguished Mormon family—his father served as a missionary in Japan just before World War II and returned to Japan as the first postwar mission president. Armand served his mission in Boston (he tells wonderful stories of being kicked off front porches by angry Irishmen) and later sent five sons on missions. Perhaps once a missionary, always a missionary—from our earliest acquaintanceship, Armand has engaged me in discussions about Mormonism. Later, he introduced me to the Society for the Sociological Study of Mormon Life and eventually arranged for me to give the O. C. Tanner Lecture at the 998 annual meeting of the Mormon History Association. Most importantly, Armand is a friend of more than forty years. I also expanded my Mormon contacts through Stan Weed during his tenure as director of the LDS Church’s statistical-research department. He is a terrific scholar and a wonderful man, and through him I formed some connections to the Sociology Department at Brigham Young University, especially with James T. Duke and Lawrence Young. Each of them arranged



for me to visit BYU several times, and Larry initiated and conducted a conference on religion and rational choice at Sundance Resort that was focused mainly on my work. Notice that I did not capitalize rational choice, although economists always do so. The reason is that I do not belong to that particular scholarly sect. I advocate “rational” choice only as far superior to the “irrational” choice premise that so long prevailed in social scientific treatment of religion—that to be religious, people must be crazy, silly, stupid, or liars. I think I have won many battles for the principle that in making their religious choices (including whether to be religious) people are as rational (sensible) as they are when making all other choices in life. Yes, we are sometimes impulsive, misinformed, or careless. But all in all we try to do what best suits our preferences. Finally, studying Mormonism has influenced my personal preferences. My very favorable reactions to BYU and to other LDS Church–related institutions eventually predisposed me to respond favorably to an invitation to help build the world’s leading center for the social scientific study of religion at Baylor University. Early in my career I would not have been comfortable at any faith-based institution. But in maturity I take pride in being part of the world’s largest evangelical Christian (Baptist) university. If some Mormon readers find that affiliation unsettling, consider that someone who at least knows what it actually feels like to be religious wrote the following chapters. Most sociologists, including many sociologists of religion, don’t even understand what that statement means. Rodney Stark Corrales, New Mexico

The R ise of Mormonism

 Introduction

Rodney Stark is not a Mormon. He is, however, a renowned sociologist with an abiding interest in the Latter-day Saints. In his own words, the “miracle” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter Church of Jesus Christ or LDS Church) makes it “the single most important case on the agenda of the social scientific study of religion.” As a sociologist, he considers the rise of Mormonism to be “one of the great events in the history of religion.”1 Many have wondered how and why a non-Mormon academic has become so interested in the Latter-day Saints. Sociologist Armand L. Mauss introduced Stark to Mormonism when they were both Berkeley graduate students in the 960s.2 The following decade, Stark benefited from his friend’s insights into Mormon networks of faith as he studied how individuals are recruited into new religious movements. While LDS missionaries are traditionally seen as the engine of Mormon growth, Mauss helped Stark document the importance of interpersonal bonds in LDS missionary work.3 In 983, Mauss invited Stark to contribute the lead article for an upcoming special Mormon issue of a sociology journal he was guest editing.4 He also provided Stark with a copy of the LDS Church’s Deseret News Church Almanac, complete with detailed statistics of Mormon membership growth since 830. Stark was fascinated by the richness of the LDS data—it presented him with the unique opportunity to study the rise of a successful, new religious movement: “only by very careful study of a truly successful movement can we hope to glimpse how and why new religions succeed,” he would later explain.5 Mormonism promised to be the ultimate case study for one of Stark’s most important fields of research: why religious movements succeed (or, more often, fail). Unlike other new religious movements that

2 introduction

made a splash and then sank to the depths of failure, the Church of Jesus Christ had been riding a wave of astonishing numeric growth success since 830. “From the Mormons,” Stark would argue, “we can see how a successful movement differs from the thousands of failures.”6 The following year—two decades ago—Stark made his first major contribution to the scientific study of Mormonism. His groundbreaking article, “The Rise of a New World Faith,” appeared in the September 984 issue of the Review of Religious Research.7 Stark observed that nearly fourteen hundred years had passed since a new religion evolved into a major world faith. “It is, of course, much too late to study how Islam arose in the seventh century,” he lamented, “as it is too late to study the rise of the other great world faiths. Their formative periods are now forever shrouded in the fog of unrecorded history.” Fortunately, scholars “need wait no longer” to witness such a moment: “the time of deliverance is now at hand.”8 The rise of a new world faith—Mormonism—is happening right now, according to Stark. “There are more than five million Mormons on earth,” Stark noted. “How many will there be in the near future? Projections require assumptions. If growth during the next century is like that of the past, the Mormons will become a major world faith.” He then argued that if the LDS Church grows by 30 percent per decade, then there will be more than 60 million Mormons by 2080. But if it grows by 50 percent per decade, LDS membership will balloon to over 265 million and, in so doing, numerically rival other world faiths such as Islam, Buddhism, historic Christianity, and Hinduism. Mormonism will become the first world religion to emerge since the rise of Islam.9 In hindsight, what Stark expected to be a “minor article” turned out to be his most celebrated and contested sociological study of Mormonism. The scholarly response to his 984 article encouraged him to revisit the Latter-day Saints in order to defend his projections, and that enabled him to extract important social-science models from Mormonism.10 The first six chapters of this book introduce and detail the specific theoretical models Stark has both extracted from Mormonism and applied to his study of the Latter-day Saints. The last chapter updates his original foray into Mormon studies. As his projections and contentions are such debated issues in Mormon studies, I have devoted the majority of this introduction to reviewing their reception. Chapter , “Extracting Social Scientific Models from Mormon History,” is a modified version of Stark’s 998 O. C. Tanner Lecture on Mormon History.11 Mauss, then president of the Mormon History Association, invited Stark to present a lecture on the scientific study of religion and Mormonism.



Instead of devoting his remarks to illuminating how some of the “general social scientific principles” relate to Mormon history, Stark did the opposite: he summarized several of the general sociological principles he had extracted over the years from Mormonism. Chapter 2, “Joseph Smith Among the Revelators,” is an expanded adaptation of Stark’s 999 article “A Theory of Revelations,” with special emphasis on the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith.12 Stark relates that the inspiration for his refined theoretical model, how normal people receive divine revelations, came as he studied the 978 revelatory experience of Church of Jesus Christ President Spencer W. Kimball.13 His theory consists of twelve propositions necessary for revelations to occur, and he illustrates each by looking at the revelatory experiences of Joseph Smith, Muhammad, Jesus, and Moses. Chapter 3, “Mormon Networks of Faith,” is a reworked version of a published book chapter and essay on the role of social networks in conversion.14 Stark explains how early Mormonism, like early Christianity, expanded through interpersonal bonds and not the mass conversions that some historians have suggested. He also demonstrates how contemporary LDS missionary work flourishes through the same networks. Chapter 4, “Rationality and Mormon Sacrifice,” is also partially taken from Acts of Faith.15 In this essay, Stark explains why a demanding faith like Mormonism is so attractive to so many people. He explodes the myth that less-demanding religious organizations are more attractive to rational people and demonstrates that exacting faiths actually enjoy higher levels of commitment, sacrifice, and satisfaction than their less-demanding competitors. Chapter 5, “Modernization, Secularization, and Mormon Growth,” blends three essays.16 Stark contends that modernization and secularization do not deter the growth of religious movements, although many of his “colleagues believe the pool of potential new LDS converts is rapidly drying up and soon will be fished out, causing growth rates to plummet.” Therefore, Mormonism will fail to become a new world faith, they believe. Yet Stark demonstrates that “faith in these secularization theses is sadly misplaced but also that contrary to prevailing views, modernization and secularization stimulate Mormon growth.”17 Chapter 6, “The Basis of Mormon Success,” is an edited version of Stark’s 998 book chapter on Latter-day Saint social life.18 In 996, Stark refined his original theory of why some religious groups succeed. “I wanted to identify the factors that separated these rare winners from the thousands of losers,” he explained.19 To do so, he suggested ten propositions or necessary conditions for religious movements to thrive. This chapter explores the extent

4 introduction

to which the LDS Church fulfills each of his revised propositions. In other words, it explains why Mormonism continues to enjoy such steady growth. Chapter 7, “The Rise of a New World Faith,” is an updated and reworked version of Stark’s 984 essay and his 996 follow-up article.20 As previously mentioned, some sociologists and observers of religion choked on Stark’s daring declarations. The magnitude of his figures and the implications of his projections lodged in their throats like a stray chicken bone. “I have been given the benefit of an amazing amount of counseling concerning the pitfalls of straight-line projections,” Stark admitted in his 996 article. “In assessing this earnest advice, I have had to consider that it was coming to me mainly from people who were utterly horrified at any conceivable possibility that in a century there might be more than 260 million Mormons on the planet.”21 (As a side note, his “high” forecast was too low by almost a million Latter-day Saints in 996.)22 Naturally, Stark’s predictions provide the media with a much-needed handle by which to chronicle the rise of Mormonism. A former journalist himself, his writing drips with juicy sound bites. During the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games’s media hype, many news writers, broadcasters, and reporters peppered their stories with his demographic forecast. Time magazine, for example, featured the Church of Jesus Christ complete with a nighttime picture of the Salt Lake Temple on its cover. “Mormons, Inc.: The Secrets of America’s Most Prosperous Religion,” the cover read. Noting that the LDS Church was “by far the most numerically successful creed born on American soil and one of the fastest growing anywhere,” the reporter quoted Stark to bolster his claim.23 And U.S. News and World Report magazine ran its own cover story on contemporary Mormonism with an almost identical cover. Referencing Stark, journalist Jeffrey Sheler stated: “By almost any measure, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of the world’s richest and fastest-growing religious movements.”24 While there is truth to Stark’s claim that some observers are rooting for the demise—not the rise—of Mormonism, I will document the wide-ranging response to his demographic projections and new-world-faith thesis, both inside and outside of academia and the Church of Jesus Christ. LDS officials and laypersons, together with both Mormon and non-Mormon scholars, have expressed more ambivalent views toward Stark’s thesis and projections for the LDS Church than the popular press. In fact, British sociologist Douglas Davies describes Stark’s argument as one of the most controversial and debated issues in contemporary Mormon studies.25 I will suggest that most Latter-day Saints are flattered by Stark’s numerical projections but feel unsure about the potential repercussions of his claims. I will



also present the views of some Mormon and non-Mormon scholars who disagree with Stark’s scenario and debate what it means.

Categorizations of Mormonism Although Stark predicts that Mormonism will become the first new world faith in almost fourteen centuries, he was neither the first nor the last observer to identify Mormonism as something new—but he was perhaps the boldest in his assertions.26 Since the organization’s founding in 830, historians, sociologists, religious studies scholars, and even literary critics have attempted to categorize Joseph Smith’s American religion. Notable men and women have wrestled with the meaning of Mormonism and advanced a number of conclusions. In other words, Stark joined an important scholarly conversation midsentence—an exchange that continues to this day. To understand what he is saying in this volume, one must listen to the echoes of the earlier and ongoing discussion. How, then, have writers and scholars defined Mormonism? Author Fawn Brodie is one of Joseph Smith’s best-known biographers. Brodie argued it was “exciting and enlightening to see a religion born.” She believed Mormonism was “no mere dissenting sect” but instead “a real religious creation, one intended to be to Christianity as Christianity was to Judaism: that is, a reform and a consummation.”27 A decade after Brodie’s book, sociologist Thomas O’Dea asked, “Who Are The Mormons?”28 He concluded that what began “as a sectarian religious group, through its emulation of the Old Testament Hebrews . . . had been transformed into the Mormon people.” In his view, the Mormon community “had gone from ‘near-sect’ to ‘near-nation.’ ”29 Even the dean of American religious history, Sydney Ahlstrom, furrowed his brow over “the great story” of Mormonism, which “persistently escapes definition.” “One cannot even be sure if the object of our consideration is a sect, a mystery cult, a new religion, a church, a people, a nation, or an American subculture; indeed, at different times and places it is all of these,” he opined. Unable to define Mormonism, Ahlstrom likened the movement “to a fast growing hardwood towering above the sectarian underbrush of the burnt-over district.”30 Undaunted by Ahlstrom’s struggle to categorize the LDS movement, several scholars added their voices to the ongoing dialogue after Stark dropped his 984 bombshell. For example, religious studies scholar Jan Shipps advanced her own classification in the early 980s. Unlike Stark who eschewed doctrine for demographic data, Shipps analyzed Mormon beliefs and theology. Echoing and expanding upon Fawn Brodie’s earlier claim, Shipps argued,

6 introduction

“Latter-day Saints of every stripe are heirs of a radical restoration.” As a result, “Their forebears entered into a new age in much the same way that the Saints of early Christianity entered into a new age. In so doing the Latter-day Saints started over, not to reform the institutions of Christendom but to participate in a transformation which in its totality has now made Mormonism into a distinct, discrete, internally consistent religious tradition.”31 Within a decade of Shipps’s groundbreaking study, literary critic Harold Bloom offered his own take on Mormonism. “Mormonism is as much a separate revelation as ever Judaism, Christianity, and Islam were,” Bloom argued.32 According to sociologist Kendall White, “Bloom’s conception of Mormonism as a new world religion combines Stark’s argument based on growth and the numbers of Mormons that may be anticipated through the twenty-first century with Shipps’ argument about Mormonism developing its own distinctive religious tradition.”33 And Joel Kotkin predicted in 993 that Latter-day Saints would someday constitute a new world “tribe.”34 Having eavesdropped on this important conversation, we can now better hear Stark’s booming voice.

267 Million Mormons? Cheerleaders and critics provide Stark’s argument with two distinct but related responses. First, they applaud or question his fantastic projections. Then, they endorse or distance themselves from what his projections, if true, imply: that Mormonism will become the next world religion. Let us examine these two issues separately. Although scholars have critiqued Stark’s 984 projections, I am unaware of any attempts actually to model them in any detail; one colleague merely offers, “if Stark is correct, Mormonism will possess large numbers.”35 In other words, until now, no one has examined whether the number of Latter-day Saints would actually compare numerically to the traditional world religions—Islam, Buddhism, historic Christianity, and Hinduism—whether Stark’s “high” twenty-first-century forecast proves accurate. Fortunately, Stark is not the only scholar to speculate on the future of religion. If we combine his “high” LDS growth projections with the world religion projections found in David B. Barrett, George T. Kurian, and Todd M. Johnson’s World Christian Encyclopedia and its companion volume World Christian Trends, a.d. 30–a.d. 2200, we have similar data to compare.36 Before we attempt to divine the religious future, however, we need to survey the sacred past. And as any statistician will attest, it is much easier to count than to predict. According to table , the global population numbered 5,266,442,000 in 990.37 There were approximately ,747,462,000 Christians (33.2 percent of the world’s population), 962,357,000 Muslims (8.3 percent),

table  Global Adherents of the World’s Major Distinct Religions, 990–200 1990 Christians















lds (Stark high)











lds (Stark low)











lds (almanac)












33.0 2,616,670,000 33.4 3,051,564,000 34.3




67.0 5,207,033,000 66.6 5,857,531,000 65.7

























chinese folk-religionists

































global population






8 introduction

685,999,000 Hindus (3.0 percent), 323,07,000 Buddhists (6. percent), 3,89,000 Jews (0.3 percent), and 7,76,000 Latter-day Saints (0. percent) scattered across the globe. If we consider Mormonism as a religious tradition apart from historical Christianity, it ranked as the eleventh largest religion (numerically) in the world in 990. By 2000, however, there were over  million Latter-day Saints worldwide, moving their faith almost to the tenth spot. Looking beyond 2004 requires us to let go of hard data and place our trust in soft projections. If both Stark (“high” projections) and the others are correct regarding world religion growth rates, the Church of Jesus Christ will number almost 29 million members by 2025. It will become the ninth largest religion in the world, surpassing Judaism and Spiritualism. And by 2050, it will have nearly 80 million adherents, exceeding Sikhism. (Cheering Latter-day Saints need to keep in mind, however, that their tradition, even with such massive numbers at the middle of the twenty-first century, would still not constitute  percent of the world’s population.) On the surface, then, Stark seems correct in suggesting that his projected number of Latter-day Saints would elevate Mormonism numerically to the status of a dominant world faith by the middle of the twenty-first century. Finally, Stark projects there will be over 267 million Latter-day Saints by 2080. Even Carl Mosser, one of the LDS Church’s most outspoken, evangelical critics, accepts Stark’s projections—“if there is no change in the process”—and anticipates that Mormonism will become “one of the world’s largest religious organizations within the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren.”38

Reactions to Stark’s Numeric Projections Not surprisingly, many Latter-day Saints view Stark’s projections as long awaited, outside corroboration of their own beliefs regarding the destiny and growth of their church—for they believe their faith is in crescendo, not diminuendo. Most are flattered that a “gentile,” or non-Mormon, sociologist would seem to agree. In his 2003 Society for the Scientific Study of Religion conference paper, sociologist Kendall White suggested that “Mormon officials warmly embrace Stark and his demographic argument, and they like the import implied in being a major world religion.”39 Furthermore, Douglas Davies claims that Stark’s “extrapolation of membership figures into the future functions as a kind of reversed history, depicting a future of a profoundly positive profile. The Mormon interest in Stark’s analysis is, obviously, grounded in faith and in the hope that this religion of the Restored Gospel will establish itself in large numbers across the world.”40 Several LDS scholars have already appropriated Stark’s conclusions. For example, Terryl Givens and Eric Eliason subtitled their recent LDS publica-



tions “The American Scripture That Launched a New World Religion” and “An Introduction to an American World Religion,” respectively.41 Moreover, Claudia and Richard Bushman concluded their history of Mormons: “At its current rate of growth, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be a major world religion in the coming century.”42 Three vignettes from LDS history—two from the nineteenth century and one from 2003—help explain why these LDS scholars and many other Mormons embrace Stark’s numeric projections. There is no doubt that Latter-day Saints encourage, monitor, and document LDS growth—but not for growth’s sake alone. They believe they are building the Kingdom of God in preparation for Jesus Christ’s Second Coming. In 830, the year he founded the Church of Jesus Christ with just six members, Joseph Smith gathered his small, yet growing number of followers into a humble log home in New York. One attendee recalled the brash conversation: We began to talk about the kingdom of God as if we had the world at our command; we talked with great confidence, and talked big things, although we were not many people, we had big feelings; . . . we began to talk like men in authority and power. . . . We talked about the people coming as doves to the windows, that all nations should flock unto it.43

Several years later in Kirtland, Ohio, Smith assembled all the early brethren in a log schoolhouse. The Mormon prophet asked all the men to share their testimonies of the latter-day work. When they finished, he said: Brethren I have been very much edified and instructed in your testimonies here tonight, but I want to say to you before the Lord, that you know no more concerning the destinies of this Church and kingdom than a babe upon its mother’s lap. You don’t comprehend it. . . . It is only a little handful of Priesthood you see here tonight, but this Church will fill North and South America—it will fill the world.44

Finally, in fall 2003, Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the LDS Church, reaffirmed Joseph Smith’s vision when he told his 2 million members: We have scarcely scratched the surface. We are engaged in a work for the souls of men and women everywhere. Our work knows no boundaries. Under the providence of the Lord it will continue. . . . The little stone which was cut out of the mountain without hands is rolling forth to fill the earth. (see Daniel 2:3–45; Doctrine and Covenants 65:2)45

0 introduction

President Hinckley and his fellow Latter-day Saints have reason to be optimistic about the future. In 2002, the Glenmary Research Center report named the Church of Jesus Christ the “fastest-growing religious denomination” in the United States. During the 990s, it grew 9.3 percent to a total of 4.2 million members in the United States.46 And Mormon growth was even more explosive internationally. Perhaps Harold Bloom was right when he observed of Mormonism: “No other American religious movement is so ambitious, and no rival even remotely approaches the spiritual audacity that drives endlessly towards accomplishing a titanic design. The Mormons fully intend to convert the nation and the world.”47 Church leaders and members are encouraged to consecrate their lives and means to fulfill Joseph Smith and Gordon B. Hinckley’s latter-day vision. Not all Latter-day Saints, however, are comfortable with this expansionist mindset. Mormon sociologist Rick Phillips argues that his church “uses membership growth as a principal benchmark of its success. Church publications and the speeches of LDS leaders often cite the expansion of Mormonism as evidence of the validity and legitimacy of church doctrines and programs.” Noting that nearly every LDS periodical chronicles growth, he also argues that “Mormon apologists . . . use the work of sociologists [especially Rodney Stark] to substantiate Mormonism’s bandwagon appeal” and claims that the LDS Church has “seized on Stark’s predictions, and has disseminated them widely.” Phillips continues, “While I was doing research in Salt Lake City several years ago, rank-and-file Mormons sometimes mentioned Stark’s work to me in passing. They had heard of the eminent, nonMormon sociologist who concurs with their own assessment of the church’s destiny.”48 While most Latter-day Saints have welcomed Stark’s projections, I believe the official church response has been more ambivalent than Phillips and others have suggested. For instance, although the LDS Church’s Deseret News Church Almanac showcased Stark’s eye-popping projections, the article ran under the following headline: “An Imaginative Look Into the Next Century.” The word “imaginative” hardly suggests wholesale acceptance. Moreover, the almanac offered its own forecast (through 2050), which falls short of Stark’s “high” projections but is still above his “low” forecast (see table ).49 In other words, Stark, a non-Mormon observer, is more optimistic about the growth of Mormonism than official LDS researchers! Furthermore, I found only two references to Stark’s scholarship in LDS periodicals, including the Ensign, New Era, Friend, Liahona, Church News, and other official publications between 984 and 2004.50 This observation raises the question: Why does the Church of Jesus Christ and its public relations department not quote Stark’s numeric projec-



tions more often? A couple of thoughts come to mind. First, their concern may stem from their own ambivalence about the church’s numeric—not spiritual—destiny. One of the oft-quoted LDS scriptures on this theme is found in the Book of Mormon. The prophet Nephi records a vision in which he is shown the condition of the world and the “church of the Lamb of God” (the LDS Church in Mormon belief) in the last days. According to Nephi, the saints of God in the latter-days would be “scattered upon all of the face of the earth,” “few” in number, and their dominions “small” because of the wickedness of the world. Nevertheless, the saints and God’s covenant people would be “armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory” ( Nephi 4:2, 4). Therefore, even though they see their church as the stone that the Old Testament prophet Daniel saw in vision, breaking down the other kingdoms of the world in the last days, Latter-day Saints are unsure how large membership needs to become to fulfill that prophecy. They also realize that great numbers do not necessarily equal great success. Second, one could argue that church officials are cautious about placing too much emphasis on secular scholarship. They comprehend Mormonism on spiritual, not academic terms. In contrast, Stark, a sociologist, necessarily reduces all religious behavior, including that of Latter-day Saints, to group action. For example, when scholars (including Stark) gathered to discuss LDS growth in Canada, one church official tempered their academic approach to the study of Mormonism. “I applaud the attempts by historians, sociologists, and others to understand us,” Elder Alexander B. Morrison began, but “I must tell you in all solemnity, however, that unless you come to understand the deeply felt conviction of divine direction that has motivated the leadership and the humble, faithful members of our Church since its beginning, you will fall short of your goal.” Many Mormons believe their faith “can only be understood in religious terms.”51 In other words, no matter how glowing a portrait outside academics, including Stark, paint of the Latter-day Saints, Mormon officials are wary unless the hand of God is visible on the finished canvas.

A New World Faith? That said, I believe LDS leaders are more concerned about the implications of the second half of Stark’s prediction—that Mormonism will soon be a new world faith. However, Mormonism already is a global religion. Today more than half of all Latter-day Saints reside outside of the United States: they live in Canada (60,743), Mexico (98,975), the Caribbean (22,82), Central America (488,830), South America (2,640,234), Europe (47,056),

2 introduction

Asia (79,752), Africa (7,23), and the South Pacific (373,025). They speak English, Spanish, Portuguese, Tagalog, Cebuano, Japanese, Ilokano, Samoan, Korean, and Tongan as their top ten languages. Mormonism became a world religion, some would argue, when its early missionaries converted their first Canadian and British citizens in the 830s; others say it was when its global membership reached 0 million in the 990s. Or did it? Evangelical scholar Carl Mosser argues that even if “LDS membership fully meets or exceeds Stark’s highest projections,” this feat alone would not “constitute Mormonism as a world religion.”52 Why? If staggering numerical growth and expanding global presence are not the defining factors, what transforms a global faith into a world religion? Furthermore, what is at stake in such categorization? Douglas Davies argues: “The interest of any particular religion could be positively served by the fact that the very phrase ‘world religion’ has come to assume general approbation and stands at the opposite end of the popular spectrum from the term ‘cult.’ ”53 And “cult” is how many evangelical Christians define Mormonism. Not surprisingly, “cult” is a four-letter word (in both senses) in Mormon circles. Latter-day Saints cringe when they learn that “Mormons” and “Mormonism” are still entries in contemporary reference works like Sects, “Cults,” and Alternative Religions: A World Survey and Sourcebook, by David Barrett, and The Encyclopedia of Cults, Sects, and New Religions, by James Lewis.54 And they fume that Gordon Melton classifies the “Latter-day Saints Family” (including Utah Mormons, Polygamy-Practicing Groups, Missouri Mormons, Other Mormons) outside of Christianity in his Encyclopedia of American Religions.55 “To move from cult status to that of ‘world religion’ would be beneficial to the membership and leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as far as public opinion is concerned,” Davies suggests.56 What is at stake here? Regardless of its scholarly utility, the category “world religion” is still used by many to categorize (and rank) global faiths. For example, a search for “world religions” on the Google search engine will yield nearly 7 million hits. Enter the same key words into any university library catalog and you will be bombarded with hundreds of references. And looking for books about world religion on will net nearly 70 thousand titles. Who or what exactly constitutes a world religion is less clear. According to Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions, the term “world religions” was a “classification made popular in the 9th century that referred to an exclusive set of religions that crossed national boundaries.” Initially, only Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam fit the definition. Over time, four more religions—Confucianism/Taoism, Hinduism, Judaism, and Shinto—were



added.57 Moreover, the editors of The Illustrated Guide to World Religions suggest only seven living religions—Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Chinese Traditions, and Japanese Traditions—deserve to be called world religions, based on three criteria: number of followers, diffusion, and historical importance.58 Finally, the editors of Microsoft’s Encarta 998 Encyclopedia consider only Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism world religions.59 Not even reference works agree as to what constitutes a world religion. One thing is clear, however: being labeled a world religion is certainly preferable than being slurred a cult.

Reactions to Stark’s New-World-Faith Thesis What’s in a name, or, in this case, what’s in a categorization? Although many scholars of religion no longer find the “world religions” typology helpful, it is clear that such status has great cachet. Why, then, are LDS leaders hesitant to have their church anointed the next world religion even if it qualifies numerically? As long as Stark’s thesis remains in the realm of demographics and numbers, they are generally content and even flattered. When I asked him where he fit in the larger discussion, Stark replied, “I don’t!” He has read neither Shipps nor Bloom. When he first claimed that Mormonism was on its way to becoming a “new world faith,” all he meant was that if historical LDS growth rates continue, the Church of Jesus Christ will be a “really, really big religion” by 2080.60 But his scholarship has been increasingly appropriated by the larger conversation I described earlier: the growing debate over Mormonism’s status as an emerging world religion, or a new religious tradition. Kendall White argues that the debate within the LDS community regarding the labeling of Mormonism as a new religious tradition centers on the relationship between Mormonism and historical Christianity.61 For Mormonism to be considered a stand-alone world religion, with all that imports, it would have to divorce itself from Christianity—something Jan Shipps and Harold Bloom believe the Church of Jesus Christ has already done. White suggests that this is why these two scholars have not enjoyed the same hospitality as Stark has in Salt Lake City. “As flattering as Shipps and Bloom may be, they create anxiety with arguments that define Mormonism outside Christianity. To the Mormons, Shipps and Bloom unwittingly provide aid and comfort to those who deny the saints their ‘rightful’ place within the Christian fold.”62 And members of the Church of Jesus Christ are unwilling to trade their Christian birthright for a mess of world religion pottage.

4 introduction

Latter-day Saints take understandable offense when outsiders judge them to be beyond the pale of Christianity. It is one thing to claim that Mormons are not part of traditional Christianity; it is quite another to deny their Christian heritage and faith. As part of a religion “asserting its status as a Restoration of truth,” LDS leaders, scholars, and members are therefore trying to find new ways actively to categorize their own beliefs rather than passively to accept the categorization of others.63 Some now refer to their unique flavor of Christianity as “Mormon Christianity,” “Latter-day Christianity,”64 and “Restored Christianity.”65 Or, as two Mormon scholars explain, Latter-day Saints “are Christians, but of a particular sort.”66 According to the LDS Church’s Web site, “Members of the Church claim to be Christian, but they reject the notion that they are Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox. To them, being Christian is not complete without another unique identifier. The key word for believers is restoration.” The Web site further claims that many Latter-day Saints don’t seem to care much about claims from other Christians that they are not part of “mainstream Christianity.” In fact, most of the Church’s members readily agree. While they seem to want to be regarded with respect by other faiths as Christians, they seem eager to stand independent in matters of doctrine.67

Latter-day Saints want to be different, but not completely different from their Christian brothers and sisters. They want to be “in Christianity, but not of it,” to turn a biblical phrase. As a result, most Latter-day Saints are grateful for Stark’s optimism and “imaginative view” of their destiny. Yet they are apprehensive of what exactly he and other scholars, like Shipps and Bloom, mean when they identify Mormonism as something new—even if the identification is positive—if they perceive the scholars or their classifications as undermining their relationship to Christianity. This LDS ambivalence toward Stark and his fellow scholars, however, may fade in the twenty-first century. According to one sociologist: If Christianity further fragments in a post-modern, secular world of varied options, the Latter-day Saints will find it easier simply to assert their uniqueness without debating the precise meaning of “Christian” at all. That would make their identity as a distinctive group easier to affirm and, if their numbers continue to expand, it would also make their status as a new religion increasingly viable.68

Already, few Latter-day Saints understand or even care about the conversation I have just rehearsed.69



Conclusion Could there really be 267 million Latter-day Saints by 2080? In 996, Stark reminded his critics that “it would be wise to keep in mind that back in 880 scholars would have ridiculed anyone who used a straight-line projection to predict that the [33,600] Latter-day Saints of that year would number more than five million a century hence. But that is now history.”70 What remains is the future. And although “only time will tell whether we have in Mormonism a new world religion as such,” the future looks bright for the American religion.71 Yale scholar Harold Bloom argues that not even the Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus will be able to stop the Mormon wave in the coming age. The Latter-day Saints “will not falter; they will take the entire twenty-first century as their span, if need be, and surely it will be.”72 And if they do, we, along with our children and our grandchildren, will witness something unseen in more than fourteen centuries: the rise of a new world faith, or at least—to borrow Stark’s words—a “really, really big” Christ-centered religion. We are grateful to many individuals who helped midwife this book into the world of scholarship. Richard Lyman Bushman, Terryl L. Givens, Phillip E. Hammond, Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, Armand L. Mauss, Heather M. Seferovich, Steven Vaisey, Grant Wacker, and Jed Woodworth reviewed portions or complete drafts of the manuscript. Their suggestions are appreciated and reflected in this volume. Many thanks to Wendy Lochner, our editor at Columbia University Press, for seeing merit in our idea and shepherding our project through the publication process. While Columbia may not have much of a college football team, its press and personnel are second to none. Christine Mortlock, Michael Haskell, and Kate Lawn have been wonderful to work with during the production process. Much of this work appeared earlier, in somewhat different form as explained above. We therefore acknowledge the publishers and organizations that allowed us to reprint Stark’s scholarship: the Association for the Sociology of Religion, Mormon History Association, Religious Research Association, Religious Studies Center–Brigham Young University, Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Transaction Publishers, University of California Press, University of Chicago Press, and University of Illinois Press. Artist Roger Loveless graciously permitted us to showcase his Brotherhood painting as our cover art. Finally, I want to thank Rodney Stark for taking Mormonism seriously. That such an eminent sociologist would entertain and support an unsolic-

6 introduction

ited proposal by an unknown graduate student says more about his magnanimous character than my abilities as an editor. Thanks for believing in me from the beginning, Rod. Reid L. Neilson Chapel Hill, North Carolina Notes . Rodney Stark, “The Rise of a New World Faith,” Review of Religious Research 26, no.  (September 984): 26–27. 2. Armand L. Mauss, “Rodney Stark: The Berkeley Years,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 29, no. 3 (990): 362–66. 3. Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge, “Networks of Faith: Interpersonal Bonds and Recruitment to Cults and Sects,” in The Future of Religion: Secularization, Revival, and Cult Formation, ed. Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge (Berkeley: University of California Press, 985), 307–24. Stark and Bainbridge published an earlier version of this essay as “Networks of Faith: Interpersonal Bonds and Recruitment to Cults and Sects,” American Journal of Sociology 85, no. 6 (980): 376–95. 4. Armand L. Mauss, “Guest Editor’s Introduction,” Review of Religious Research 26, no.  (September 984): 5–7. 5. Stark, “The Rise of a New World Faith,” 26. 6. Ibid. 7. Ibid., 8–27. This issue was cosponsored by the Society for the Sociological Study of Mormon Life—the forerunner of the Mormon Social Science Association— and by the Family and Demographic Institute at Brigham Young University. Several other Mormon-related sociological studies appeared in this same issue. 8. Stark, “The Rise of a New World Faith,” 8. 9. Ibid., 8–9. 0. See this book’s preface and Rodney Stark, “Extracting Social Scientific Models from Mormon History,” Journal of Mormon History 25, no.  (999): 74–94. . Stark, “Extracting Social Scientific Models from Mormon History,” 74–94. 2. Rodney Stark, “A Theory of Revelations,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 38, no. 2 (999): 287–308. 3. Ibid., 288. 4. Rodney Stark and Roger Finke, Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2000), chapter 5; and Stark and Bainbridge, “Networks of Faith,” 376–95. 5. Stark and Finke, Acts of Faith, chapter 6. 6. Rodney Stark, “Modernization, Secularization, and Mormon Success,” in In Gods We Trust: New Patterns of Religious Pluralism in America, ed. Thomas Robbins and Dick Anthony, 2d ed. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 990), 20– 8; Rodney Stark, “Modernization and Mormon Growth: The Secularization Thesis Revisited,” in Contemporary Mormonism: Social Science Perspectives, ed. Marie



Cornwall, Tim B. Heaton, and Lawrence A. Young (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 994), 3–23; and Rodney Stark, “Secularization, R.I.P.,” Sociology of Religion 60, no. 3 (999): 249–73. 7. Stark, “Modernization and Mormon Growth,” 4. 8. Rodney Stark, “The Basis of Mormon Success: A Theoretical Application,” in Latter-day Saint Social Life: Social Research on the LDS Church and its Members, ed. James T. Duke (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 998), 29–70. 9. Rodney Stark, “Why Religious Movements Succeed or Fail: A Revised General Model,” Journal of Contemporary Religion , no. 2 (996): 33–46. 20. Stark, “The Rise of a New World Faith”; and Rodney Stark, “So Far, So Good: A Brief Assessment of Mormon Membership Projections,” Review of Religious Research 38, no. 2 (December 996): 75–78. See also Rodney Stark, “The Rise of a New World Faith,” in Latter-day Saint Social Life, 9–27. 2. Stark, “So Far, So Good,” 76. 22. Ibid., 75. 23. David Van Biema, “Kingdom Come,” Time, 4 August 997, 52. 24. Jeffrey L. Sheler, “The Mormon Moment: The Church of Latter-day Saints Grows by Leaps and Bounds,” U.S. News and World Report, 3 November 2000, 59–60. 25. Douglas J. Davies, The Mormon Culture of Salvation: Force, Grace, and Glory (Aldershot, Eng.: Ashgate, 2000), 243. The spring 996 issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought was devoted to “Mormons and Mormonism in the Twenty-first Century: Prospects and Issues.” A number of the articles, especially Lowell C. “Ben” Bennion and Lawrence A. Young, “The Uncertain Dynamics of LDS Expansion, 950–2020” (8–32), Gordon Shepherd and Gary Shepherd, “Membership Growth, Church Activity, and Missionary Recruitment” (33–57), and Armand L. Mauss, “Mormonism in the Twenty-first Century: Marketing for Miracles” (236–49), discuss the future of LDS Church growth. 26. Nor was Stark the first publicly to project the Latter-day Saint growth. In 969, Jack Carlson predicted that “the Mormon population in the world is therefore likely to rise from 2.6 million or 0.08 percent of the 3 billion inhabitants of this planet in 968 to 8.5 million or 0.28 percent of the projected population of 5 billion people forecast for 2000 A.D.” Jack W. Carlson, “Income and Membership Projections for the Church Through the Year 2000,” Dialogue 4, no.  (spring 969): 33. 27. Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet, 2d rev. ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 995), viii. Brodie’s conception of Mormonism would percolate into Jan Shipps, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 985). 28. Thomas F. O’Dea, The Mormons (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 957), . 29. Ibid., 5. 30. Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 972), 508–9.

8 introduction 3. Shipps, Mormonism, 65. 32. Harold Bloom, The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation (New York: Simon & Schuster, 992), 0. 33. O. Kendall White Jr., “Mormonism: From ‘Sect’ to a ‘New World Religion?’ ” 9, paper presented at the October 2003 meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Norfolk, Va.; copy of paper in my possession. 34. Joel Kotkin, Tribes: How Race, Religion, and Identity Determine Success in the New Global Economy (New York: Random House, 993), 245–49. 35. Davies, The Mormon Culture of Salvation, 243. 36. David B. Barrett, George T. Kurian, and Todd M. Johnson, eds., World Christian Encyclopedia: A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World (New York: Oxford University Press, 200), :4; and David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson, eds., World Christian Trends, a.d. 30–a.d. 2200: Interpreting the Annual Christian Megacensus (Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library, 200). 37. Although Stark made his projections in 984 for the period of 980 to 2080, the best world religion projections I can find give data for only 990 and 2000, 2025, 2050, and 200. Therefore, I will focus on Stark’s projections from 990 to 250. All LDS Church data come from Deseret News 2004 Church Almanac (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 2004). 38. Carl Mosser, “And the Saints Go Marching On: The New Mormon Challenge for World Missions, Apologetics, and Theology,” in The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement, ed. Francis J. Beckwith, Carl Mosser, and Paul Owen (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2002), 64. 39. White, “Mormonism: From ‘Sect’ to a ‘New World Religion?’ ” 6. 40. Douglas J. Davies, “Views of an International Religion,” in Mormon Identities in Transition, ed. Douglas J. Davies (London: Cassell, 996), 223. 4. Terryl Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture That Launched a New World Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002); and Eric A. Eliason, Mormons and Mormonism: An Introduction to an American World Religion (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 200). 42. Claudia Lauper Bushman and Richard Lyman Bushman, Building the Kingdom: A History of Mormons in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 999), 03. 43. “Conference Minutes,” Times and Seasons (Nauvoo, Ill.) 5, no. 9 ( May 844): 522–23. 44. Wilford Woodruff, Sixty-eighth Annual Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 898), 57. 45. Gordon B. Hinckley, “The State of the Church,” Ensign 33, no.  (November 2003): 7. 46. Laurie Goodstein, “Conservative Churches Grew Fastest in 990s, Report Says,” New York Times, 8 September 2002. 47. Bloom, The American Religion, 94. 48. Rick Phillips, “The Impact of Missionary Work on LDS Wards: An Ethnographic Case Study,” 2; copy of unpublished paper in my possession.



49. Deseret News 200–2002 Church Almanac (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 2002), 48–52. 50. David B. Haight, “Filling the Whole Earth,” Ensign 20, no. 5 (May 990): 23– 25; and Edwin O. Haroldsen, “Good and Evil Spoken Of,” Ensign 25, no. 8 (August 995): 8–. 5. Don L. Searle, “News of the Church,” Ensign 7, no. 7 (July 987): 78. 52. Mosser, “And the Saints Go Marching on,” 62–64. 53. Davies, The Mormon Culture of Salvation, 26. 54. David V. Barrett, Sects, “Cults,” and Alternative Religions: A World Survey and Sourcebook (London: Blandford, 996); and James R. Lewis, The Encyclopedia of Cults, Sects, and New Religions (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2002). 55. J. Gordon Melton, Encyclopedia of American Religions, 6th ed. (Detroit: Gale, 999), v–xviii. 56. Davies, The Mormon Culture of Salvation, 26. 57. Wendy Doniger, ed., Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions (Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, 999), 48. See also Tomoko Masuzawa, The Question of Universality: Counting the “World Religions” in the Nineteenth Century, Second Annual Robert C. Lester Lecture (Boulder: Department of Religious Studies, University of Colorado at Boulder, 2000). 58. Michael D. Coogan, ed., The Illustrated Guide to World Religions (New York: Oxford University Press, 998), 6–7. 59. Microsoft Encarta 998 Encyclopedia, 997. CD-ROM. The “Mormonism” entry states that the LDS Church is a “major world religion.” 60. Telephone conversation with Rodney Stark, 24 November 2003. 6. White, “Mormonism: From ‘Sect’ to a ‘New World Religion?’ ” 9. 62. Ibid., 6. 63. Davies, The Mormon Culture of Salvation, 26. 64. Robert L. Millet and Noel B. Reynolds, eds., Latter-day Christianity: Ten Basic Issues (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies and Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 998). 65. Dallin H. Oaks, “Apostasy and Restoration,” Ensign 25, no. 5 (May 995): 84– 87. 66. Bushman and Bushman, Building the Kingdom, 03. 67. “Restored Christianity,”, 30 October 2003. 68. Davies, The Mormon Culture of Salvation, 245. 69. I’m grateful to Armand Mauss for this insight. 70. Stark, “So Far, So Good,” 76. 7. Davies, “Views of an International Religion,” 224. 72. Bloom, The American Religion, 94.

 1. Extracting Social Scientific Models from Mormon History

Historians have become accustomed to exhortations that they ought to apply social scientific models to their scholarship. Thus, when the Mormon History Association invited me to give the distinguished O. C. Tanner Lecture on Mormon History at their thirty-second annual conference in 998, they likely assumed that any religious movement, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is both unique and constrained by general social scientific principles. And I imagine they presumed that I would devote my lecture to explaining how some of these principles apply to Mormon history. However, I thought it would be far more useful to do the opposite. Through the years, by close study of the Mormons I have tried to discover the general within the particular—to extract general social scientific models from Mormon history. So I devoted my Tanner Lecture to summarizing several of these models in hopes that my Mormon audience would see some of the general implications of things they knew so very well in particular.

The Rise of a New World Faith Twenty years ago I published my first LDS study with the flamboyant title “The Rise of a New World Faith” (Stark 984a). In it I explained why Mormonism offered a “unique opportunity” to social scientists. I began by noting that it may be futile to try to understand the rise of new religions by studying the numerous small groups that constantly spring up, since none of these movements ever actually rises. Almost all are doomed to obscurity

22 extracting social scientific models from mormon history

from the start. Hence, even if we should discover the underlying principles governing these new religious movements, chances are that what we will have discovered are the laws of religious failure. Sociologists must study successful cases to understand how new religions rise. So I continued: It is, of course, much too late to study how Islam arose in the 7th Century, as it is too late to study the rise of other great world faiths. Their formative periods are now forever shrouded in the fog of unrecorded history. Despite the many admirable efforts to deduce “histories” of these great movements by sociologizing upon shreds of texts, there are severe limits to what can be learned by these means. Sociologists of religion must await new developments to provide them with critical evidence.

And then came my punch line: “I suggest that we need wait no longer, that the time of deliverance is now at hand. I shall give my reasons for believing that it is possible today to study that incredibly rare event: the rise of a new world religion” (Stark 984a:8). I then presented two projections of LDS Church membership for the next century (980–2080). The low estimate was based on a growth rate of 30 percent per decade, which is far below the actual average rate of growth of 6 percent maintained by the church during the three decades up to 980. This low estimate would produce about 64 million Latter-day Saints in 2080. The high estimate was based on a growth rate of 50 percent per decade, still below the rate maintained during the preceding thirty years. Were it to be met, there would be about 267 million Latter-day Saints in 2080. Either total would qualify Mormonism as a world religion. These projections have attracted much attention and have sent any number of my colleagues and various journalists into extreme denial. But it is possible to compare the projections for the first twenty-three years (980– 2003) with actual membership figures. In chapter 7 I show that membership of the Church of Jesus Christ is substantially higher than my most optimistic projections. This little exercise in the arithmetic of the possible became of considerably more general interest when I wrote a book on the rise of Christianity (Stark 996a). I hoped to establish whether the ordinary process of conversion explained how Christianity had grown as large as it must have been by the start of the fourth century or whether it was necessary to accept claims of mass conversions. That is, what rate of growth must we assume for Christianity to have grown from about ,000 members in a.d. 40 to about 6 million in a.d. 300? Historians, from Eusebius to Ramsay MacMullen,

extracting social scientific models from mormon history


have unanimously asserted that such large numbers necessitate extraordinary bursts of mass conversions. Here I had an immense advantage because I knew from LDS statistics that the early growth of Christianity was in no way astonishing. All that was required for Christians to number 6 million within the time that history allows was a growth rate of 40 percent per decade, which is significantly lower than the recent LDS rate (Stark 996a:7, 4). I must confess that I have enjoyed all the praise I received for generating this growth curve for early Christianity, but I also must admit that it was a very small achievement. I have made rather more important discoveries from close study of the Latterday Saints. For example, in my first essay on the rise of Mormonism, I promised that I would soon publish a theoretical model of how new religions succeed, generalized from the LDS example. I made good on that promise in 987 and produced a more sophisticated version in 996 (Stark 987, 996b). In chapter 6 I examine whether (and to what extent) the Latter-day Saints satisfy each element of my theory. And satisfy and succeed they do.

Networks of Faith One of my earliest theoretical contributions to the social scientific study of religion concerned the central role of social relations in conversion to religious groups. This work did not begin with study of the Latter-day Saints but with the first dozen American members of the Unification Church, often referred to in the media as the Moonies. John Lofland, a fellow graduate student, and I wanted to understand how people converted. We decided that no real progress could be made in explaining conversion if we were barricaded behind the library stacks, so we went out to see it happen. Our observations reduced doctrinal appeals to a very minor initial role. Yes, after people have joined a new religious movement and have fully learned its doctrines and forms of worship, they emphasize the centrality of belief in their conversion. But having observed these same people before and during their conversions, Lofland and I knew better. It was the social connection that led to their conversions, or, as we put it, “conversion was coming to accept the opinions of one’s friends [or relatives]” (Lofland and Stark 965:87). Subsequent studies have shown that, in fact, interpersonal ties, or social capital, are the primary factor in conversion; my more recent work on this phenomenon is based on the proposition that when an individual’s attachments to a member or members of another religion outweigh his or her attachments to nonmembers, conversion will occur.

24 extracting social scientific models from mormon history

In the case of most new religious movements, conversion is based on the formation of attachments to outsiders, and the typical convert is a person deficient in ties to others because of situational or psychological factors. However, when movements depend on befriending isolates, their growth will be very slow. Why? Because when new members are selected for lack of ties to nonmembers, they rarely connect the group to other potential converts. Thus, growth requires that these religious movements constantly form new ties to nonmembers despite being increasingly composed of members deficient in the social skills needed to play the active role in forming such relationships (Stark and Roberts 982). Any movement growing as rapidly as Mormonism or early Christianity cannot be based on recruiting isolates. Rather, most new converts must open the way to new social networks—to the conversion of their friends and relatives. While seeking to document this proposition I first benefited from a close examination of Mormonism. My LDS friend and fellow sociologist Armand Mauss provided me with data on the outcomes of a large number of contacts between Mormon missionaries and nonmembers. When the contact occurred through a door-to-door cold call, the results were dismal. However, when the contact was arranged and hosted by a Mormon friend or relative of the potential recruit, conversion took place quite often. It thus became obvious that LDS conversion is most efficiently produced by rank-and-file Latter-day Saints who spread their faith to relatives and friends (Stark and Bainbridge 980b). My interests in conversion and the growth of religious movements have taken me back to the Church of Jesus Christ data again and again. I have devoted a good deal of effort to reconstructing the earliest Mormon social networks, starting with the Joseph Smith family. Most Mormon historians are aware that many early Mormon conversions were very much a kinship affair. Nevertheless, I doubt that many fully appreciate the extent by which the Church of Jesus Christ began as one big family or how long this remained true and at what extraordinary distances. I have detailed these social networks in chapter 3.

Religious Capital and Conversion Having stressed the network character of LDS conversion, I now must admit that doctrine does matter. Even if people do not pursue a new faith because they find its doctrines irresistible, doctrine does tend to impede or facilitate religious choices. It does this in two primary ways. One way involves the principle of the conservation of religious capital. The other way occurs as doctrine shapes the social norms within religious groups.

extracting social scientific models from mormon history


As I became more familiar with LDS statistics I noticed that the LDS church was much more successful in some places than others. Eventually, I recognized a pattern: Mormon growth is usually more rapid in Christian than in non-Christian societies. This encouraged me to examine other recent religious movements and to notice that groups retaining substantial Christian cultural elements (such as Christian Science or the Children of God) have grown more in the United States than have various non-Christian faiths based in Hinduism or other Eastern religions (such as Theosophy or the Hare Krishnas). We already have examined the role of social capital in conversion. Likewise, people will attempt to conserve their religious capital—the degree of mastery of any particular religious culture—when making religious choices. What this means is that, generally speaking, the greater their store of religious capital (the more they have invested in a faith), the more costly it is for people to change faiths. This fact helps us recognize why converts overwhelmingly are recruited from the ranks of those lacking a prior religious commitment or having only a nominal connection to a religious group. When people change religions, they tend to select the option that maximizes their conservation of religious capital by switching to a religious body very similar to the one in which they were raised (Bibby and Brinkerhoff 973).

The Word as Flesh Doctrine also plays a substantial role in shaping the social life of religious groups, aspects of which are of special importance to any outsider thinking of becoming a member. I was able to overcome my sociological training and to recognize that the Word can indeed become flesh. Anyone who lives around Latter-day Saints and pays attention must be struck by the worldly rewards of membership. They benefit from the promise of immense rewards to come in the next world and shower one another with rewards in this one. By asking much of their members, the church gains the resources to give them much. Far more than members of most other American faiths, Latter-day Saints can feel secure against misfortune and hard times. This is not an accident, nor is it a holdover from frontier customs. Again and again when I have discussed these practices with Latter-day Saints, they quickly offer scriptural explanation. They maintain their own system of social services because they believe God commands them to do so. And here, too, my work on early Christianity profited greatly from my Mormon experiences.


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It is not fashionable to argue that the early Christians took seriously such ideas as being their brothers’ keepers. Nor would most sociologists have suggested that Christians really would have acted on such notions to nurse the sick in times of plague, to sustain widows and orphans, to purchase the freedom of slaves, or to provide decent burial for the dead—this despite the fact that both early Christian and pagan sources agree that it was all true! Most sociologists know better than to believe such stuff. We have been taught that ideas are but epiphenomena flowing upward from underlying material conditions. But anyone who has watched their LDS friends make substantial sacrifices on behalf of others—open their home to an abandoned wife and children or regularly take a former neighbor now suffering from Alzheimer’s disease out for a picnic—knows enough to look for such forms of religious behavior elsewhere. I was able to understand the very attractive social and material rewards of early Christianity because I observed people become Latter-day Saints after having initially formed a favorable impression of the church on these grounds alone.

A Theory of Revelations Furthermore, my immersion in Mormon history led me to formulate and then to extend a theory of revelations. The most basic question confronting the social scientific study of religion concerns the sources of religious culture. Given that the major Western religions are all based on revelations, the question becomes: How do “revelations” occur? To the extent that we cannot answer this question, we remain ignorant of the origins of our entire subject matter. When William Bainbridge and I first surveyed the literature on revelation, we found that the psychopathological interpretation was the overwhelming favorite, with conscious fraud treated as the only plausible alternative. We reworked the literature and systematized our own field observations to state three models of revelation, allowing for revelations involving neither craziness nor corruption (Bainbridge and Stark 979). But I still was not satisfied. Eventually, I found the basis for a new theory in a close examination of how Spencer W. Kimball, then president of the LDS Church, received the revelation in 978 that blacks could receive the Mormon priesthood. President Kimball reported no voices from beyond, no burning bushes, and no apparitions (Mauss 98). The actual process by which he received his revelation would seem to involve nothing more (or less) than achieving a state of complete certainty about what God wanted him to do.

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Couldn’t any sincere believer have revelations that way? Clearly, this episode demonstrated the possibility that many revelations can be understood in rational terms. I soon realized that this assumption could be extended even to the more dramatic episodes of revelations, including those that involve visions and voices. So I proceeded to construct a model of revelations based on the starting assumption that normal people can, through entirely normal means, have revelations, including revelations sufficiently profound to serve as the basis of new religions (Stark 999b). In constructing it, I ended up giving considerable attention to famous founders of religions, and I was struck by some amazing similarities among Joseph Smith, Muhammad, Jesus, and Moses. I have unpacked my comparison of these holy men in chapter 2. This observation led me to the notion of “Holy Families” or the importance of family and social networks not only for producing converts but also for sustaining prophets. There seems to be compelling evidence that cultural and social supports are needed to make people receptive to revelations. I was careful to acknowledge the possibility that revelations actually occur. It is beyond the capacity of science to demonstrate that the divine does not communicate directly with certain individuals; there is no possibility of constructing an appropriate detector. We must, therefore, admit the possibility of an active supernatural realm closed to scientific exploration. To confess these limits to scientific epistemology is not to suggest that we cease efforts to account for religious phenomena within a scientific framework. There is no necessary incompatibility between these efforts and faith.

Religion, Faith, and Skepticism While the similarities among Joseph Smith, Muhammad, Jesus, and Moses sustain my theoretical propositions, unfortunately they can also be twisted to support the view that religions are nothing more than human inventions and that all the faithful are misled or myopic. This fallacy has gone unchallenged in social science circles for far too long. Therefore, let me explain why the social scientific study of religion is as compatible with faith as it is with skepticism. The basis of the fallacy is the notion that, to be true, religions must be immune to social scientific analysis, being inexplicable enigmas. For example, it is assumed that if believers, and especially founders, can be shown to behave in predictable ways, subject to normal human desires and motivations, then their religion must be a wholly naturalistic phenomenon, having no supernatural aspects. From this view, the fact that these four religious

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founders conform to a social scientific model is proof of their purely human origins. Why else, skeptics ask, would the recipients of revelations have role models? Why would they require social support to proceed with their missions? Why would movements spread through networks on the basis of interpersonal relations rather than on the basis of scriptural merit? This form of attack on the credibility of religion ignores what all believers readily acknowledge: that there is always a human side to religious phenomena. Mormons, Muslims, Christians, and Jews believe that the divine could convert the whole world in an instant, restrain the forces of evil, and perform much-desired miracles. But followers of these faiths also assume that this is not the divine intention. Rather, they believe that the divine acts through history, employing imperfect human agents. No inherently irreligious assumptions are therefore involved in seeking to understand the human side of religious phenomena, including revelations, in human terms. Thus, for example, there is nothing discreditable in discovering that those who train and supervise missionaries are concerned with developing effective tactics, with sustaining morale, and with all the other common issues arising from organized human action. Moreover, all four faiths depict the humanity of their founders, and, from the point of view of believers, there is nothing blasphemous about examining their human sides and observing that they behaved in recognizably human ways. The social scientific study of religion attempts to do nothing more.

Conclusion The “miracle” of the Church of Jesus Christ’s success makes it the single most important case on the agenda of the social scientific study of religion. Sociologists and historians can learn much from the study of Mormonism and from Latter-day Saints directly. From Mormonism we can see how a successful movement differs from the thousands of failures. Moreover, we are fortunate to have such a movement available for study and can also hope to profit immensely from the extraordinary research of LDS social scientists on Mormonism (Walker, Whittaker, and Allen 200:53–97). One of the great advantages of doing research on the Latter-day Saints is the extraordinary quality and quantity of the data they collect and statistics they compile. In 903, University of Wisconsin political economist Richard T. Ely wrote of Mormonism: “So far as I can judge from what I have seen, the organization of the Mormons is the most nearly perfect piece of social mechanism with which I have ever, in any way, come in contact, excepting alone the German army” (Ely 903:668).

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And, as the German army in that era displayed its perfection not only in field tactics but in scrupulous staff work, so, too, has the Church of Jesus Christ maintained an appetite for detailed and exact information. Their statistics are constantly being updated; they are subject to periodic field audits; and they are augmented by extremely professional research. Through the years, I have consulted with many denominational research departments and have read countless reports of their results. I have often been very favorably impressed. Yet the research efforts of other denominations shrink to insignificance when compared with the quality, scope, and sophistication of the work of the Church of Jesus Christ’s social-research department. One might as well be comparing missionary efforts. Some of this work is not yet readily available outside the LDS Church, and I have been unusually privileged to see it. Yet there is every reason to be confident that the results of these truly important studies will find their way into the appropriate journals in the future. And, even if we must wait awhile, what is really important is that the right data are being collected in the right way. Thus they constitute a prize for scholars—if not today, then at some future time. Suppose the Apostle Paul had not only sent out letters but also questionnaires? And what if it were only today that the Vatican released them? Would we think them too old to be useful? Not at all. Finally, I am aware how easy it is for one person’s faith to be another’s heresy. Indeed, that was the basis of my early work on religion and antiSemitism. Nevertheless, one does not really expect to find hard-line particularism among scholars of religion. Thus, I continue to be astonished that my colleagues—who would never utter anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, or even anti-Muslim remarks—unself-consciously and self-righteously condemn the Latter-day Saints. It is time we did better.

 2. Joseph Smith Among the Revelators

Editor’s Introduction Several days after experiencing his “First Vision,” Joseph Smith related his theophany to a local revivalist Methodist preacher. His rehearsal was not well received. “I was greatly surprised at his behaviour,” Joseph recorded, “he treated my communication not only lightly, but with great contempt, saying it was all of the devil; that there was no such thing as visions or revelations in these days; that all such things had ceased with the Apostles, and that there never would be any more of them” (Smith 853:77). Historian Richard Bushman explains: “The preacher reacted quickly, not because of the strangeness of Joseph’s story but because of its familiarity. Subjects of revivals all too often claimed to have seen visions.” But it was the accompanying messages, not the visions themselves, that upset the establishment. “Too often the visions justified a breach of the moral code or a sharp departure in doctrine. By Joseph’s day, any vision was automatically suspect, whatever its content” (Bushman 984:58–59). Not only were visions automatically suspect—so were the visionaries. Joseph quickly discovered he was the target of evangelical attack. “I soon found,” he lamented, “that my telling the story had excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors of religion, and was the cause of great persecution, . . . though I was an obscure boy, only between fourteen and fifteen years of age, and my circumstances in life such as to make a boy of no consequence in the world.” Nevertheless, “men of high standing” from all Christian sects united and took “notice sufficient to excite the public mind against” Joseph, stirring up “hot persecution,” which they heaped

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upon his head, causing the Palmyra plowboy “great sorrow” (Smith 853:77). Reflecting on his teenage years, Joseph concluded: I have thought since, that I felt much like Paul when he made his defence before King Agrippa, and related the account of the vision he had when he “saw a light and heard a voice”; but still there were but few who believed him. Some said he was dishonest, others said he was mad, and he was ridiculed and reviled; but all this did not destroy the reality of his vision. He had seen a vision—he knew he had—and all the persecution under heaven could not make it otherwise; and though they should persecute him unto death, yet he knew, and would know unto his latest breath, that he had both seen a light and heard a voice speaking to him, and all the world could not make him think or believe otherwise. So it was with me. I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two personages, and they did in reality speak unto me, or one of them did; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely, for so saying, I was led to say in my heart, Why persecute for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can with stand God? (Smith 853:77–78)

Joseph Smith would go on to claim a number of revelatory experiences, including additional theophanic visions, angelic visitations, as well as the receipt of corporate and personal revelations. To his growing number of followers, Joseph spoke with divine authority on both spiritual and temporal matters. Still, his critics continued to condemn his revelatory claims, rejecting the possibility that “angels appear to men in this enlightened age!” “Damn him,” they exclaimed, “he ought to be tarred and feathered for telling such a damned lie!” (as quoted in Wood 980:382). And he was. Mobs applied the pitch and down to the exposed flesh of Joseph and several of his followers. The Mormon prophet’s revelations and his critics’ condemnation crescendoed until June 844, when a hail of bullets finally silenced Joseph, but not before he had shared some of his most mind-stretching, radical revelations. In the sixteen decades since Joseph Smith’s assassination, many Mormon and non-Mormon scholars and observers have attempted to explain why he and his followers found themselves so at odds with antebellum U.S. society. They have explored the political, religious, social, and economic fault lines between the Latter-day Saints and those in the mainstream. While each claim is interesting and worthy of study, it seems that Smith’s claim to the revelatory was the ever-present wedge. This is because he taught that the

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heavens were again open and that God was speaking to men—a charge that few could bear, then or now. His successor Brigham Young explained: “Why was [Joseph Smith] hunted from neighborhood to neighborhood, from city to city, and from State to State, and at last suffered death? Because he received revelations from the Father, from the Son, and was ministered to by holy angels, and published to the world the direct will of the Lord concerning his children on the earth” (Young 876:582). Therefore, the purpose of this chapter is to present a theory of how and why revelations work, with special emphasis on Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet.

A Theory of Revelations As conceived by the major Western faiths, God speaks. Thus, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Mormon scriptures are believed to derive from revelations, from the actual thoughts of God conveyed to selected recipients. If we would truly understand these faiths, it is necessary to ask: How do revelations occur? Despite being the question, it seldom has been raised, and the ongoing empirical research on revelations and various other aspects of “the sociology of mysticism takes place within a theoretical vacuum” (Hood 985:287). The reason for this theoretical neglect has been that the “causes” of revelations have seemed obvious to most social scientists: those who claim to have received revelations—to have communicated with the supernatural—are either crazy or crooked, and sometimes both. Indeed, even many social scientists who will assume the rationality of more mundane religious phenomena find it quite impossible to accept that normal people can sincerely believe they have communicated with the divine. No reviewer flinched when, in the third sentence of his book Mystical Experience, Ben-Ami Scharfstein revealed that “mysticism is . . . a name for the paranoid darkness in which unbalanced people stumble so confidently” (973:). Although scholars often are more circumspect than Scharfstein, it long has been the orthodox position that the world’s major religious figures, including Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, as well as thousands of more recent revelators such as Joseph Smith, Bernadette Soubirous, and Sun M. Moon, were psychotics, frauds, or both. When William Sims Bainbridge and I (979) surveyed the literature on revelation we found that although the topic had been little covered, the psychopathological interpretation was the overwhelming favorite, with conscious fraud treated as the only plausible alternative. In that essay, Bainbridge and I reviewed this slim literature and analyzed our own fieldwork to propose three models of revelation. The first gives sys-

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tematic statement to the psychopathology interpretation. Here, revelations are traced not simply to mental illness but also to abnormal mental states induced by drugs or fasting. The second model substitutes chicanery for psychopathology and characterizes some religious founders as entrepreneurs. Finally, we proposed a subcultural-evolution model of revelation wherein a small group, interacting intensely over a period of time, assembles a revelation bit by bit, without anyone being aware of the social processes taking place. Here, at least, we made room for revelations involving neither insanity nor fraud. After the publication of that article, it became increasingly clear to me that these three models fail to account for many cases of revelations—including the most significant ones. There have been precious few examples for which there is any persuasive evidence that the founder of a new religious movement had any symptoms of mental problems.1 Of course, lack of visible signs is no impediment for Freudians and others who are entirely willing to infer psychopathology from religious behavior per se (Capps and Carroll 988; Carroll 987; Freud [927] 96; La Barre 969; Schneiderman 967). For those lacking conviction in Freud’s revelations, the apparent normality of scores of well-documented cases ought to stimulate new approaches. Moreover, it seemed equally clear that few of the apparently sane recipients of revelations were frauds. Too many made personal sacrifices utterly incompatible with such an assessment. Finally, the subcultural-evolution model will not take up the slack, for the majority of cases seem not to fit it either. Hence, the need for a new approach was patent. Consequently, I devoted several papers to exploring how normal people could talk with God (Stark 99, 992b, 997). In this chapter I greatly revise and extend that work into a general model of revelations. The inspiration for pursuing such a model came from reading an account of how President Spencer W. Kimball received the revelation in 978 that blacks could receive the LDS priesthood. President Kimball spoke only of the many hours he spent in the “upper room of the temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance,” not of voices from beyond, burning bushes, or apparitions (Mauss 98). He apparently received his revelation by becoming convinced of God’s will in the matter. If President Kimball’s experience can be considered revelation, then it is entirely clear that normal people can, through entirely normal means, believe they communicate with the divine. Moreover, as I pursued the matter in greater depth, I saw that this assumption can be extended even to cases involving voices and visions—as I plan to demonstrate. Although the model is, of necessity, limited to the human side of revelations, it is inappropriate to rule out the possibility that revelations actually

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occur. Unfortunately, as Ralph Hood (985) has pointed out, even the most unbiased social scientists typically have been unwilling to go further than to grant that the recipients of revelations have made honest mistakes, that they have misinterpreted an experience as having involved contact with the divine. This is taken as self-evident on the grounds that any real scientist “knows” that real revelations are quite impossible. I fully agree with Hood (985, 997) that whereas methodological agnosticism represents good science, both methodological atheism and theism are unscientific. Neither we, nor science, can prove that revelations are impossible. Therefore, provision is made for this possibility in proposition four of my model, although this is not, and ought not be, a necessary assumption of the model. Keep in mind, too, that many religions are not based on revelations. A distinction is made between “revealed” and “natural” religions in all general discussions of comparative religions. Thus, The New Columbia Encyclopedia notes that religions may be distinguished on the basis of “the origins of [their] body of knowledge . . . some religions are revealed as in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam” while others are “nonrevealed, or natural,” being the result “of human inquiry alone” (Harris and Levey 975:2299). Here The New Columbia Encyclopedia includes Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and “Chinese metaphysical doctrines.” In similar fashion, the new Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (Bowker 997:84) explains that natural religious are based on truths “discerned within the natural order,” whereas revealed religion “comes from a source other than that of the human recipient, usually God.” Geoffrey Parrinder (976) uses the terms “monism” and “theism” to draw the same distinction between forms of mysticism, the former involving insights achieved by the mystic, whereas the latter attributes insights to communication with divinity. Consequently, insights gained through meditation, such as when Zen Buddhists experience enlightenment, are not revelations because a revelation is not an insight or an inspiration. A revelation is a communication— President Kimball did not think that he had found truth within himself, but that God had placed it there. Consequently, a revelation presupposes a divine being capable of wishes and intentions, thereby eliminating the Tao as well as the god of most Unitarians. Revelations are communications believed to come from a divine being. With this definition to guide us, let us turn to the model. In presenting the propositions, I will illustrate each by drawing on the four most important cases of revelations in Western history. I make considerable use of the case of Joseph Smith not only because his revelations launched the most impressive new religious movement in centuries but also because of the extraordinary amount of reliable detail that is available. The second primary

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case is that of Muhammad, whose life and activities also are very well documented. Jesus is the third case I will draw upon, and I was very relieved to discover that the mists of unrecorded history are far less dense than I had feared. The fourth case is Moses, and here I will be limited to passing references since the mists are thick indeed.

The Context of Revelations If not all conceptions of the divine can be the source of revelations, not all sociocultural contexts can sustain revelatory activity (Stark 965b). Hence, the first proposition includes two elements, which specify the context necessary for revelations to occur. . Revelations will tend to occur when (a) there exists a supportive cultural tradition of communications with the divine and (b) the recipient of the revelation(s) has direct contact with a role model, with someone who has had such communications. As will be seen, people routinely experience many things they might define as communication with God (Hood 985), but to actually define something as a revelation they must assume that such communication is possible. This assumption can be supported by the religious culture in general, but revelations are far more likely for those who know and respect someone who already has had such encounters. This holds in all four major cases: Joseph Smith, Muhammad, Jesus, and Moses. Joseph Smith. At age eighteen, when he had his first encounter with the angel Moroni, Joseph Smith lived in Palmyra, New York, a small town in the heart of a region that came to be known as the “Burned-Over District” because of its responsiveness to revivals and for giving rise to so many religious movements. Hence, in addition to the general Christian tradition of revelation, Joseph lived in a local environment in which people were accustomed to reports of revelations (Ahlstrom 972; Brodie 945; Cross 950). His family took revelations for granted, as did most of their neighbors. Local people frequently reported having vivid religious experiences; one such person was Joseph’s father, Joseph Smith Sr., who often had dreams that he defined as “visions” (Arrington and Bitton 979; Brodie 945; Bushman 984). Seven of the visions were regarded as so significant that they are recounted in detail in his wife’s memoirs, published years later (Smith 853). These visions, which involved healing and salvation, were well known to all family members. Consequently, Joseph Jr. was prepared to have visions of his own, and when that happened the first thing he did was tell his father who “expressed no skepticism. Having learned himself to trust in visions, he

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accepted his son’s story and counseled him to do exactly as the angel said” (Bushman 984:63). LaMar C. Berrett noted that the senior Smith was “the first person to have faith in Joseph’s experience with Moroni” and “showed respect and trust to his son concerning an experience that would cause most fathers to question, criticize, or disregard” (988:37). Muhammad. Revelations were taken for granted in Arabic culture in Muhammad’s time. In part, this was a result of the constant and close contact with Christians and Jews—communities of both faiths existed all over the Arabian Peninsula in those days, some of them very close to Muhammad’s Mecca. In fact, at the start of his prophetic career, Muhammad assumed that Christians and Jews would embrace his revelations, since he believed himself to be the last in a line of prophets beginning with Abraham and including Jesus. There also was an indigenous Arabic tradition of revelation. This was especially well developed among a group known as the hanif, who seem to have been a monotheistic sect in Arabia that included elements of both Christianity and Judaism—possibly being a refuge for heretics from both (Bowker 997). Scholars now generally accept that the hanif reflected the existence of “a national Arabian monotheism which was the preparatory stage to Islam” (Fueck [936] 98:9). Muhammad was directly influenced by two of the four founders of the hanif movement. One of these was his cousin Ubaydallah ibn Jahsh, who also was one of Muhammad’s early converts, and the other was his wife’s cousin Waraqa ibn Nawfal, a famous ascetic whom Muhammad may have known since early childhood (Peters 994:04). Waraqa had visions of his own and had long been predicting the coming of an Arabian prophet. Consequently, he authenticated Muhammad’s earliest visions and spurred him on in pursuit of more revelations (Armstrong 993; Farah 994; Payne 959; Peters 994; Rodinson 980; Salahi 995; Waines 995; Watt 96). Jesus. There is much uncertainty about the actual revelations on which Christianity is based. Jesus did not leave a “book,” and his fundamental message, let alone what he actually said, always has been in dispute. That aside, the story is much the same. Has there ever been a time and place where revelation and prophecy were more taken for granted than Palestine two millennia ago? Indeed, it is the combined legacy of Judaism and early Christianity that provided the cultural basis for the revelatory activities of Muhammad and Joseph Smith. As for a role model, according to Luke (:36), John the Baptist and Jesus were cousins. Moreover, the Baptist’s father, Zacharias, was a high priest whose revelation from the angel Gabriel concerning his son’s conception was known far and wide (Luke :5–22). Besides being cousins, John the Baptist and Jesus are thought to have been friends from childhood (Metford

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983:92, 44), and the most famous among John’s revelations is the one in which he is told that Jesus is the promised messiah and son of God. In addition, a case might be made that Mary also served as a role model. Although the New Testament says surprisingly little about the mother of Jesus, the account in Luke :26–56 tells of her revelation concerning her conception of the “Son of God” and also reports her discussions with Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, concerning the divine source of that miraculous pregnancy as well. Granted, many Bible scholars deny that there is any historical reality behind this passage. But, of course, they make the same claim about most of the New Testament—despite a century of archaeology that strongly demonstrates otherwise (Dodd 963; Finegan 992; Robinson 985). Moreover, it never seems to occur to these scholars that even if they are correct that revelations don’t actually occur, that doesn’t falsify reports about people who believe they communicated with the divine. When scholars claim that because they “know” there was no virgin birth, Mary could not have perceived an encounter with the Holy Spirit, they express a non sequitur, despite all the academic apparatus within which it usually is wrapped. We do not know whether Mary was a “teenage prophetess who sang hymns of joy when she became pregnant with Jesus” (Allen 998:36). All we know is that Luke says she was, and that when her son grew up he believed that he spoke to God. Moses. Admittedly, an attempt to draw upon the case of Moses to illustrate my model is entirely dependent on scripture and tradition (cf. Ginzberg 9; Kugel 997). I make no claim that any portion of these traditions is true. Indeed, I cannot refute revisionists who claim Moses never lived. Were the whole story mythical, however, it would seem curious that the account in the Pentateuch is so entirely consistent with the other three cases—the “mythmakers” had no model to guide them in these respects. All that said, let’s see what the tradition tells us. However it was that the Israelites got to Egypt and whatever their actual status under the pharaohs, it appears they took the idea of revelation for granted, as the story of Abraham attests. Scripture reports no skepticism when Moses and Aaron confided the Lord’s message to the assembled “elders of all the Israelites” (Exodus 4:29–3). Closer to home, Moses’ wife is presented as having been entirely supportive: she not only agreed to accompany him back to Egypt, but she also is reported to have circumcised her eldest son along the way in order to protect him from God. As the daughter of Jethro, who is identified as the “priest of Midian” (Exodus 2:6, 3:), she may have been accustomed to such episodes. We do not know whether Jethro had visions or otherwise served as a role model, but it is a worthy supposition and entirely consistent with his enthusiastic support of his son-in-law’s

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claims and plans (Exodus 8). In addition, Moses’ brother Aaron also had a revelation at this time, directing him to join Moses. Finally, in Exodus 5, Moses’ sister Miriam is identified as “the prophet.” Since she was older than Moses, depending upon when she began to prophesy, she, too, could have served as a role model. As Yehezkel Kaufmann put it, Moses “seems to have grown up among a family of . . . seers” (960:227). In any event, he did not have to invent the idea of revelation. Let us now focus more closely on the phenomenon of revelation as such.

The “Mystical” Majority Revelations are merely the most intense and intimate form of religious or mystical experiences—those episodes involving perceptions and sensations that are interpreted as communication or contact, however slight, with the divine (Glock 959). As I have noted, such episodes differ greatly according to the intensity and intimacy of the contact (Stark 965a). But even the least intense form of religious experience contains the potential for more intense encounters. Indeed, the ordinary, frequent, and very widespread act of prayer has often been the springboard for revelations; this is how it all began for Joseph Smith. With this in mind, consider remarks by an American Catholic interviewed as part of Margaret Poloma and George Gallup Jr.’s (99:28) national survey on prayer: “There are times I need to make contact with God, but he seems very far away. During those times I’ll force myself to recite the rosary—and somehow he’ll just become present. After I finish the decades I can go on to talk with him in my own words. I don’t understand how it works, I just know that it does.” This respondent did not report revelational experiences, and most people do not. But for those who pray often and talk with God in their own words, the possibility is always there. Given that well over 80 percent of Americans pray quite regularly and nearly all do so in their own words, the wonder is that revelations aren’t rife. Perhaps they are. As will be discussed, most revelations do not involve anything new and thus do not require recipients to report them; most revelations simply provide recipients with personal confirmation of the reality of God (Howell 997; Neitz and Spickard 990; Stark 965a, 965b). Although religious experiences do occur among the mentally ill and sometimes are caused by fasting or drugs, overwhelmingly they occur among normal, sane, sober people (Stark and Bainbridge 997:29–55). Indeed, there is an immense body of evidence suggesting that quite ordinary mental phenomena can be experienced as some sort of mystical or religious

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episode involving contact with the supernatural being (Hood 985) and that many (perhaps even most) people in most societies have such experiences (Gallup International 984; Greeley 975; Yamane and Polzer 994). Hence: 2. Many common, ordinary, even mundane mental phenomena can be experienced as contact with the divine. Most of the time these contacts do not produce revelations but instead provide an experiential validation of faith, or what I have called a “confirming experience” (Stark 965a). Thus, for example, Catholics often report seeing the Madonna, but seldom is she reported to speak. Moreover, even when the contact does involve a communication, this usually will be interpreted in support of the prevailing religious culture. Such revelations are the kind Ernst Troeltsch (93) defined as dogmatic mysticism, in that they support the current orthodoxy. Troeltsch contrasted these with revelations of the nondogmatic variety, which do challenge orthodoxy and can lead to protest movements. Evelyn Underhill made the same point, noting that mysticism “is most usually founded upon the formal creed which the individual mystic accepts. . . . he is generally an acceptor and not a rejector of such creeds. . . . The greatest mystics, however, have not been heretics but Catholic saints” (9:95, 05). The far greater prevalence of the confirming or dogmatic variety of religious experience is the result of two factors. First, religious organizations typically come to recognize the risks involved in uncontrolled mystical activity among their adherents. As James S. Coleman noted: “One consequence of this ‘communication with God’ is that every[one] who so indulges . . . can create a new creed. This possibility poses a constant threat of cleavage within a religious group” (956:49–50). Consequently, religious organizations take pains to filter, interpret, and otherwise direct such activities so that the communications enhance and even revive conventional faith. Indeed, orthodoxy has been the standard against which Christianity has tested revelations. In  John 4:–3, Paul states clearly the test of all revelations: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now is in the world already.

In addition to institutional control, the second reason that most people who communicate with the supernatural bring forth orthodox revelations is that most such people are deeply committed to the prevailing orthodoxy and few


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are possessed of the creativity needed to generate new culture. This leads to the third proposition: 3. Most episodes involving contact with the divine will merely confirm the conventional religious culture, even when the contact includes a specific communication, or revelation.

Enter Genius Most revelations are utterly boring and clearly uninspired, as is easily discovered at the nearest occult bookstore. In contrast, some revelations seem genuine in the sense that the material is so culturally impressive as to be worthy of divine sources. For example, entirely apart from its status as a sacred text, Islamicists never cease to praise the Qur’an for its extraordinary literary merit, particularly the rhyming, rhythmic stanzas of the earliest srahs. As Robert Payne put it, in the Qur’an the Arabic “language reaches its greatest heights. Muhammad, who detested poetry, was the greatest poet to come out of Arabia” (959:3). How could this happen? Suppose that someone with the literary gifts of William Shakespeare underwent a series of mental events he or she interpreted as contact with the supernatural. Would it not be likely that the revelations produced in this way would be messages of depth, beauty, and originality? The question is, of course, how can geniuses mistake the source of their revelation? That is, how could they not know that they, not the divine, composed it? The psychopathological model explains their mistake as delusional. The entrepreneurial model claims there is no mistake but merely conscious fraud. Nevertheless, it seems likely that such a mistake could easily be made by an entirely rational and honest individual. Most composers compose. That is, they write music slowly, a few notes at a time. But this is not the way all composers work. For Mozart and Gershwin, melodies simply came to them in completed form—they did not compose tunes, they simply played what they heard and later wrote down what they had heard (although they often polished what they had originally heard). And both men seemed to regard the sources of their music as somehow “out there,” as external. In a letter to Isaac Goldberg, Gershwin described the genesis of his “Rhapsody in Blue”: It was on that train, with its steely rhythms, its rattlety-bang that is so often stimulating to a composer—I frequently hear music in the heart of noise—I suddenly heard—and even saw on paper—the complete construction of the rhapsody from beginning to end. . . . All at once I heard

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myself playing a theme that must have been haunting me inside, seeking outlet. No sooner had it oozed out of my fingers than I knew I had it. (Peyser 993:80–8)

Compare this with the report by the great first-century Jewish mystic Philo of Alexandria: Sometimes when I have come to my work empty, I have suddenly become full; ideas being in an invisible manner showered upon me, and implanted in me from on high; so that through the influence of divine inspiration, I have become greatly excited, and have known neither the place in which I was, nor those who were present, nor myself, nor what I was saying, nor what I was writing; for then I have been conscious of a richness of interpretation, an enjoyment of light, a most penetrating insight, a most manifest energy in all that was to be done; having such an effect on me as the clearest ocular demonstration would have on the eyes. (James [902] 958:364)

The similarity between artistic and religious creation has long been known. As Evelyn Underhill (9:63) put it: In all creative acts, the larger share of the work is done subconsciously: its emergence is in a sense automatic. This is equally true of mystics, artists, philosophers, discoverers, and rulers of men. The great religion, invention, work of art, always owes its inception to some sudden uprush of intuitions or ideas for which the superficial self cannot account; its execution to powers so far beyond the control of that self, that they seem, as their owner sometimes says, to “come from beyond.”

Of course, most of what “comes from beyond” to most people is banal or a confused muddle. But this is not so when the recipient is Mozart, Gershwin, or Philo. Suppose that splendidly expressed and profound new scriptures suddenly flooded into one’s consciousness? How easily one might be convinced by the quality and content of these revelations, as well as their sudden arrival, that they could only have come from the divine. It seems instructive here to examine briefly how Muhammad received the Qur’an. The founder of Islam told his followers that an angel spoke the text to him, and he, in turn, repeated it so scribes could take it down. Much of this dictation took place in front of audiences. Obviously, then, Muhammad could not have appeared to his listeners to be composing the Qur’an as he went along. If he actually was repeating the words spoken to him by an

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angel, there would have been no false starts, no second attempts, no backing up and starting over as would be the case with normal approaches to prose composition. This does not mean that he didn’t edit—Muhammad often rearranged material after it had been revealed, and he sometimes received an emending revelation at a later time (Watt 96). But it does mean that when he was receiving a revelation Muhammad’s performance would have been more like someone reading than like someone composing scripture. Of course, Muhammad could neither read nor write, and that, too, would have made him prone to mistake his own creations for external products. Indeed, in his distinguished study of Muhammad, W. Montgomery Watt (96:8) reported that in Muhammad’s first two revelational experiences he had seen “the glorious Being,” but Watt added that “this was not the normal manner in which he received revelations.” Watt then noted: “In many cases it is probable that he simply found the words in his heart (that is, his mind) in some mysterious way, without his imagining that he heard anything. This seems to be what originally was meant by ‘revelation’ (wahy) [in the Qur’an].” Is it not more plausible to cast Muhammad in the role of literary and religious genius who produced the Qur’an without realizing he was doing so than to argue that he was psychopathological or a fraud? It is hard to imagine a man with either defect behaving as he did. Here, too, Watt (96:7) puts the case most forcefully: [Muhammad] must have been perfectly sincere in [his] belief. He must have been convinced that he was able to distinguish between his own thoughts and the messages that came to him from “outside himself.” To carry on in the face of persecution and hostility would have been impossible for him unless he was fully persuaded that God had sent him. . . . Had he known that these revelations were his own ideas, the whole basis would have been cut away from his religious movement.

The case of Joseph Smith is remarkably similar. He did not simply one day produce a copy of the Book of Mormon. Instead, he began dictating it page by page to family members. Soon, Oliver Cowdery, a young schoolmaster rooming with Joseph’s parents, took over the job of scribe, writing down the scripture as Joseph spoke it. As in the case of Muhammad, the prose came smoothly (Bushman 984:98) and impressed many, including Sidney Rigdon, as being far too sophisticated to be the creation of someone with so little education (Van Wagoner 994:60). There seems sufficient evidence that an absolutely rational person could utter spontaneous prose, just as Muhammad and Joseph Smith seemed to do, and quite easily externalize the source.

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However, as mentioned before, there is another possibility that cannot be dismissed: that Muhammad and Joseph Smith could spontaneously produce remarkable scripture because they were merely repeating what they had read or heard. Since science cannot disprove that possibility, provision must be made. The question arises: If revelations really come from divine sources, why doesn’t everybody experience them? Or, why did these specific people receive them rather than some other people? Having access only to the human side of the phenomenon, one must speculate. There are several possibilities. Perhaps only some people have the capacity to receive revelations or the willingness to do so. Evelyn Underhill suggested that just as “artists . . . [have a talent for] receiving rhythms and discovering truths and beauties which are hidden from other men, so th[e] true mystic . . . lives at different levels of experience from other people” (9:75–76). In addition, it is possible that many more people receive revelations than report them, perhaps because they are quickly silenced—a matter discussed in propositions eight through eleven. And perhaps the divine moves in mysterious ways. In any event, a fourth proposition may be stated: 4. Certain individuals will have the capacity to perceive revelations, whether this be an openness or sensitivity to real communications or consists of unusual creativity enabling them to create profound revelations and then to externalize the source of this new culture. Most such episodes will produce orthodox religious culture, in keeping with proposition three. The primary interest, of course, lies in novel revelations, the sort that get identified as heresies. Several factors limit the kinds of people apt to produce a novel revelation and define the times and places in which they are likely to do so. Just as people without interest in music probably don’t have melodies come to them, people without abiding interest in religion probably don’t receive revelations. And people are very unlikely to receive heretical revelations unless they are concerned about shortcomings in the prevailing religion. This can be stated: 5. Novel (heretical) revelations will most likely come to persons of deep religious concerns who perceive shortcomings in the conventional faith(s). Of course, people will be more apt to find fault with conventional religions under certain social conditions than under others. This may be stated: 6. The probability that individuals will perceive shortcomings in the conventional faith(s) increases during periods of social crisis.

Crisis and Heresy Frequently in human history, crises produced by natural or social disasters have been translated into crises of faith. Typically this occurs because

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the crisis places demands on the prevailing religion that it appears unable to meet. This inability can occur at two levels. First, the religion may fail to provide a satisfactory explanation of why the disaster occurred. Second, the religion may seem to be unavailing against the disaster, which becomes truly critical if or when all secular responses also prove inadequate, for then the supernatural remains the only plausible source of help. In response to such failures of their traditional faiths, societies frequently have burst forth with new faiths, ones often based on the revelations of a sole individual. A classic instance is the series of messianic movements that periodically swept through the Indians of North America in response to their failures to withstand encroachments by European settlers (Mooney 896). Bryan Wilson (975a) has reported on many similar movements in Asia and Africa. In a famous essay, Anthony F. C. Wallace (956) argued that all successful religious movements arise in response to crises. That seems to be a needlessly extreme view, but there is abundant evidence that faith seldom is “blind,” in the sense that religions frequently are discarded and new ones accepted in troubled times. Keep in mind that such new faiths often are efficacious, which is why Wallace called them revitalization movements. This name indicates the positive contributions such movements often make by revitalizing the capacity of the culture to deal with a crisis. How do they revitalize? Primarily by effectively mobilizing people to attempt collective actions. Thus, the Ghost Shirt movement initially revitalized Indian societies by greatly reducing drunkenness and despair and then by providing the means to join fragmented bands into a cohesive, political unit capable of concerted action. Of course, a crisis need not afflict a whole society to provoke religious innovations. Indeed, that may be why the incidence of messianic movements is so high among oppressed minorities—from the Jews of the Diaspora (Sharot 982) to blacks in the New World (Bastide 978; Simpson 978). The extreme overrepresentation of women in such movements probably is pertinent here as well (Stark and Bainbridge 985). Another proposition now can be stated: 7. During periods of social crisis, the number of persons who receive novel revelations and the number willing to accept such revelations are maximized. This principle certainly applies to all four major cases. Joseph Smith grew up in a time and place of immense upheaval and disorder. His home was only a short walk from the Erie Canal—described by contemporaries as Satan’s sewer. Construction of the canal was completed two years after Joseph’s first encounter with Moroni. This area of western New York was the most rapidly growing, transient, booming, crime-ridden, drunken, and socially disorganized area in the United States at that time, and the area was so productive of revelations and new religions that it has prompted an extensive literature

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(Barkun 986; Cross 950; Thomas 989). Muhammad came to maturity in an environment overshadowed by the climax of the long and immense struggle between the Byzantine and Persian empires, which was agitated locally by bitter clan and ethnic conflicts among Arabs as well as chronic grievances involving nearby Jews and Christians. During Muhammad’s boyhood, the public consciousness had become pregnant with impending religious expectations that soon the Arabs, too, would have a prophet (Hodgson 974; Payne 959; Peters 994; Watt 96). In the time of Jesus, Palestine seethed under Roman misrule, corrupt vassal kings, and all manner of religious controversy, while angry prophets and millenarian expectations abounded (Horsley 989; Mathews 92; Neusner 975, 984). And Moses, of course, was born to a people held in bondage in a land of the unchosen. Keep in mind that I do not suppose that revelations (or religious movements, for that matter) require social crises. Proposition seven merely states that revelations will be more frequent during times of stress and that the probability a revelation will be heretical also rises at such times.

Social Support People typically are somewhat reluctant to divulge a revelation, especially one that is heretical, which is further evidence of their sanity. As will be seen, at first Muhammad was “assailed by fears and doubts” and apparently wondered whether he was mad (Watt 96:2). It took a lot of initial encouragement from his wife and her cousin for him to fully believe in his mission. In similar fashion, Jesus did not begin his ministry with messianic claims but only revealed them slowly and in confidence. The reason for such reluctance and worry is obvious. Human beings, at least those not afflicted with mental illness, are immensely influenced by the reactions of those around them. The more extraordinary one’s claims, the greater the perceived likelihood of rejection and ridicule. And, as Watt put it: “For a man in remote seventh-century Mecca thus to believe that he was called by God to be a prophet was something stupendous” (96:2). Had his wife rejected his claims, Muhammad may well have remained unknown to history. Two additional propositions are appropriate here: 8. An individual’s confidence in the validity of his or her revelations is reinforced to the extent that others accept these revelations. 9. A recipient’s ability to convince others is proportionate to the extent to which he or she is a respected member of an intense primary group. Imagine yourself living a life of solitary contemplation. Then, one day,

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new truths are revealed to you by a divine being—a revelation that does not simply ratify current religious conceptions but that adds to or departs from these conceptions to a significant degree. Having imparted a heterodox revelation, the divine being directs you to communicate it to the world, which means you must found a heretical religious movement. Having no close friends to reassure you or to help spread the word, somehow you now must find someone who will believe you, and then another, and another. It is a daunting prospect. But what if, instead of living a solitary life, you are a respected member of an intense primary group? It would seem far less difficult to share your revelation with people who love and trust you than to convince strangers. Moreover, if members of your immediate social network can be converted, they constitute a ready-made religious movement. Revelations cannot be sustained and transformed into successful new religions by lonely prophets but are invariably rooted in preexisting networks that have a high level of social solidarity. Indeed, new religious movements based on revelations typically are family affairs—profound achievements of what rational choice economists would call household production (Becker 964; Iannaccone 990). Whether or not a religious founder’s primary group is based on kinship, what is important is that it is a durable, face-to-face network with very high levels of trust and affection. Proposition nine concerning the role of primary groups in sustaining a religious founder would appear to contradict the New Testament, which attributes these words to Jesus upon his return to Nazareth: “A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house” (Mark 6:4). The same statement also appears in Matthew (3:57) and John (4:44). Nevertheless, I am prepared to argue that both history and theory testify that a prophet without honor among his own kin and in his own house is probably a prophet silenced. I suggest that if Jesus actually said these words, they were not directed toward his immediate family but perhaps at neighbors and at more distant relatives—which is another matter entirely. As will be seen, Jesus was honored by his family, at least some of whom seem to have been his earliest and most ardent followers. Centuries of Christian art to the contrary, the “Holy Family” did not consist of three but of at least nine members (and probably many more). Indeed, all four of the great revealed faiths were solidly rooted in Holy Families.

The Mormon Holy Family “Before it was an organization,” one historian observed, “Mormonism was a private religious awakening in a single family” (Quinn 994:). In 823, seven

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years before the LDS Church was organized, Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith lived with their six sons, Alvin (25), Hyrum (23), Joseph Jr. (8), Samuel (5), William (2), and Don Carlos (7), and their three daughters, Sophronia (20), Catharine (), and Lucy (2), in a farmhouse just outside Palmyra, New York. The Smiths were a close and loving family given to religious discussion and experimentation, having switched denominations repeatedly (Smith 853; Bushman 988; Berrett 988; Backman 988). The Smiths provide the quintessential example of household religious production. One September evening in 823, Joseph Smith Jr. had a vision during which the angel Moroni revealed to him the existence of a set of golden plates inscribed with a record of events concerning Christ’s visit to the Americas, known today as the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. As already mentioned, Joseph shared his experience with his father, who encouraged him to do as the angel instructed. The following day, Joseph located the ancient record in the place identified by Moroni. But he disobeyed the angel and attempted to secure the plates, resulting in a severe physical shock. Moroni reappeared, rebuked Joseph for touching the plates, and forbade him from “bringing them forth” until he had demonstrated his willingness “to keep the commandments of God.” What did he do then? His mother writes that when Joseph came in that evening he told the whole family “all that he had communicated to his father in the field, and also of his finding the Record, as well as what passed between him and the angel while he was at the place where the plates were deposited” (Smith 853:0). Several months later, Alvin, the eldest Smith son, fell ill. Before he died, however, he used much of his ebbing strength to encourage Joseph to obtain the plates. Joseph did so four years later. He brought the plates home and claimed to be able to read and translate them by looking through two transparent stones, known as the Urim and Thummim. So, Smith began to translate the Book of Mormon, usually doing so orally in front of the family, which now included his wife, Emma. In time, Joseph became acquainted with Oliver Cowdery, who volunteered to serve as a translation scribe. Cowdery soon formed a close friendship with David Whitmer. As work on the translation progressed, Cowdery sent Whitmer a “few lines of what they had translated” (Porter 988:75). Whitmer shared these with his entire family, who responded with very great interest. Subsequently, Smith and Cowdery, and Smith’s wife, Emma, moved into the Whitmer home, where the manuscript was completed late in 829. During this stay, Cowdery came to know Elizabeth Ann Whitmer, whom he later married. Consequently, at the start of 830 the first twenty-three Latter-day Saints (counting in-laws) consisted of eleven Smiths, ten Whitmers, Martin Harris, and Oliver Cowdery.

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The Muslim Holy Family Muhammad was about forty years old when he first began to have visions. They occurred in the month of Ramadan,2 during which he had for several years begun to seclude himself in a cave on Mt. Hiraa. Here “Muhammad spent his days and nights in contemplation and worship. He addressed his worship to the Creator of the universe” (Salahi 995:62). This practice may have been prompted by “the old visionary Waraqa” (Payne 959:5), who had converted to Christianity, is thought to have known Hebrew, and who, as mentioned, had long been predicting the coming of an Arabian prophet (Armstrong 993; Farah 994; Peters 994; Rodinson 980; Salahi 995; Watt 96). Eventually, Muhammad began to have vivid dreams involving angels and to experience mysterious phenomena, such as lights and sounds having no source (Salahi 995:62). These upset him, and he feared he was losing his sanity or that he had been possessed by an evil spirit. So, he confided in his wife, Kahdijah. She gave him immediate reassurance. She also hurried to consult Waraqa, who accepted these as signs that greater revelations would be forthcoming (Payne 959:6). Subsequently, when Kahdijah brought Muhammad to consult him, Waraqa cried out, “If you have spoken the truth to me, O Kahdijah, there has come to him the greatest namus who came to Moses aforetime, and lo, he is the prophet of his people” (Salahi 995:85). Later, when he encountered Muhammad in the marketplace, Waraqa kissed him on the forehead as a mark of his mission as the “new prophet of the one God” (Salahi 995:85). Indeed, Waraqa “serves as a kind of John the Baptist in the accounts of Muhammad’s early revelations” (Peters 994:23). Thus reassured, Muhammad now accepted his mission and expected to receive major new revelations—and soon did so. Through all that was to come, Kahdijah’s support remained constant. M. A. Salahi commented: “It was indeed a blessing that [she] should readily accept the new faith. She was to give the Prophet her unwavering support, and comfort him in the years to come when opposition to his message was to increase in ferocity and wickedness” (995:73). Indeed, as a reward for her steadfastness, the angel Gabriel came to Muhammad, telling him to convey Allah’s greetings to Kahdijah and to “give her the happy news that she had a special home in heaven where she would enjoy total bliss and happiness” (Salahi 995:73). But Kahdijah was not alone in her faith in Muhammad. Let me briefly enumerate the members of the Muslim Holy Family. After Kahdijah, first among them was Waraqa, who was Kahdijah’s cousin and who also may have known Muhammad since childhood (Peters 994:04). Muhammad was an orphan who seems to have had little contact with his siblings, otherwise those family members probably would have been part of the founding

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core of Islam, just as Joseph Smith’s parents and siblings were prominent early Latter-day Saints. Despite this, Islam began as a family affair. Kahdijah bore Muhammad two sons, both of whom died in early childhood. Perhaps partly as a result, Muhammad and Kahdijah adopted two sons. The first was Muhammad’s cousin Ali and the second was Zayd ibn-Harithah, who they originally had purchased as a slave. These adopted sons became Muhammad’s third and fourth converts (after Kahdijah and Waraqa). Kahdijah also bore four daughters, Fatimah, Zaynab, Ruqayya, and Umm Kulthum, each of whom also converted. In addition, three of Muhammad’s cousins accepted his message (including the famous hanif Ubaydallah), as did Asmar, wife of his cousin Ja’far. Muhammad’s aunt also was an early convert, as was his freed slave, Umm Ayman, a woman who had cared for him in infancy. The second convert from outside Muhammad’s immediate family, and the fifth to accept the new faith, was Abu-Bakr, Muhammad’s oldest and closest friend. And, occupying a bridge position3 in the network as did Oliver Cowdery in the early Mormon network, Abu-Bakr, in turn, brought the new faith to “a group of five men who became the mainstay of the young [movement]” (Watt 96:35). These five young men were close friends and business associates. One of them was Abu-Bakr’s cousin and another was the cousin of Muhammad’s wife, Kahdijah. Like Muhammad, Abu-Bakr had great sympathy for slaves and throughout his life spent much of his income to purchase and free people from bondage. Two of the earliest converts to Islam were slaves freed by Abu-Bakr, including Bilal, who gained lasting fame as the first muezzin (or crier) to call the faithful to prayer. So there they are, the first twenty-three Muslims.

The Christian Holy Family The New Testament is so remarkably silent on the subject of the family of Jesus that it seems quite likely that the early texts were expurgated. Even Mary is seldom mentioned, and her portrait is further obscured by confusing references to several “other” Marys, who sometimes might not be “others” at all (Bauckham 990). As for the siblings and other close relatives of Jesus, they barely made it into the scriptural canon. In Mark (6:3) we learn that Jesus had four brothers—“James, Joses, Judas, and Simon”—and unnamed “sisters.” In Matthew (3:55–56) Jesus is called Joseph, and reference is made to “all his sisters.” Mark (5:40) identifies one of Jesus’ sisters as Salome and again mentions his brothers James and Joses, the latter being named also in Mark 5:47. And in  Corinthians (9:5), Paul refers to “the brothers of the Lord” and claims that they were accompanied by their


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wives as they traveled with “the Lord.” In the expert opinion of Wolfgang A. Bienert (99:47), because Paul claims personal acquaintance with “bodily brothers,” who still lived at the time in which he is writing to others who would have known of them, the existence of these siblings must be treated as “historically reliable.” In addition to biblical references, Epiphanius of Salamis (Panarion 78.8; Anacoratus 60) mentions Salome as well as another sister of Jesus, named Maria or Mary. The Gospel of Philip (CG II:3), a Coptic text from the Nag Hammadi collection, also identifies a sister of Jesus as Mary. The apocryphal History of Joseph the Carpenter (2) names Jesus’ half-bothers as “Judas, Justus, James, and Simon” and his two half-sisters as “Assia and Lydia.” Of the siblings, James is by far the best documented. Paul acknowledges him as an apostle and as head of the church, having been so designated by his brother Jesus (Galatians :9–20, 2:9). In Acts (2:7), James again is confirmed as the brother of Jesus and, at least by implication, as head of the church. James also appears in respectable, noncanonical sources. Josephus (The Antiquities of the Jews XX, 9:) reported the execution of “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James.” In the fragment of the Gospel of the Hebrews quoted by Jerome (De viris inlustribus 2), which may date from the middle of the first century, James is placed at the Last Supper and Jesus is quoted as calling him “my brother.” In the Gospel of Thomas, which also may date from the first century, we read: “The disciples said to Jesus, ‘We know that you will depart from us. Who is to be our leader?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Wherever you are, you are to go to James the righteous, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being’ ” (2). This is also what Clement of Alexandria reported (in the fragment quoted by Eusebius, 2:): “Peter, James and John, after the Ascension of the Saviour, did not claim pre-eminence . . . but chose James the Righteous as Bishop of Jerusalem.” Of course, Eusebius himself several times identified James as “the Lord’s brother” (2:23). Finally, in another work that survives via Eusebius (2:20), Hegesippus identified James as “the brother of the Lord.” He also reported that the grandsons of Judas, “who was said to be His brother, humanly speaking,” were brought before Domitian, who freed them once they had convinced him that the “Kingdom” promised by Christianity was not of this world. Elsewhere, however, Hegesippus identified James, Judas, Simon, and Joseph as cousins of Jesus, a view later supported by Jerome (Eisenman 997: xxviii). Others redefined the “brothers and sisters” of Jesus as half-brothers and half-sisters, being children of Joseph by a prior marriage. Still others have resorted to the confusion over the various Marys to claim this brood belonged to another Mary, wife of Alphaeus (Metford 983:54).

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These contradictory kinship identifications bring into view the reason it is necessary to ransack the sources in pursuit of the family of Jesus: the doctrine concerning the perpetual virginity of Mary. Since this doctrine ruled out the possibility that Jesus could have actual siblings, what is remarkable is not that these people became obscure, but that verses identifying them as actual siblings survived in the official canon at all. Perhaps they did so only because the doctrine of perpetual virginity is of theological origins and therefore developed slowly. Thus, even at the end of the second century Tertullian (Against Marcion 4:9) vigorously defended the position that the “Lord’s brothers” were his blood brothers, born of Mary and sons of Joseph, against those, including Marcion, who proposed that Jesus had not actually undergone physical birth or was otherwise beyond biology. A generation later, however, Origen noted that “some say . . . that the brethren of Jesus were sons of Joseph by a former wife, whom he married before Mary. Now those who say so wish to preserve the honour of Mary in virginity to the end” (Commentary on Matthew 0:7). By the fourth century, Eusebius seems to have found the whole matter confusing, but he did take pains to note that Jesus was not the son of Joseph (2.). Eventually, this became another matter of dispute between Protestants and Catholics, the former accepting the interpretation that Jesus had biological brothers and sisters. By the late twentieth century, many Catholic scholars had come to this view as well (Bienert 99:470). For my purposes, of course, it doesn’t matter whether these were the actual brothers and sisters of Jesus, half-brothers and half-sisters, or cousins. What matters is whether they constituted an intense primary group that served as a committed group of initial followers, which is, of course, specifically denied by scriptural passages quoted earlier. But here, too, revisionist hands left sufficient evidence to the contrary. Recall that Paul mentioned that “the brothers of the Lord” traveled with him. Is it reasonable to suppose that siblings who rejected Jesus would have accompanied him on his ministry or, indeed, that they would have been permitted to do so? In the same line of thought, R. E. Brown commented (vis-à-vis John 7:5) that “it is curious to find the ‘brothers’ of Jesus following him along with his mother and his disciples who believed in him” (966:2). Moreover, in the same verse it is reported that “the brothers” urged Jesus to show his miracles to the world. Tertullian (Against Marcion 4:9) believed that the famous denial of his family by Jesus reported in Mark 3:33–35 was a misinterpretation. When told that “your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you,” Jesus is quoted as responding, “Who are my mother and brothers?” Then, gesturing to those who sat listening to him, Jesus added, “Here are my mother and


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brothers. Whosoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.” Tertullian explained that Jesus used this as a device to stress the kinship of faith, not to deny his family feelings. The more significant aspect here is that such an important early church father was committed to traditions of family support for Jesus. In addition, Origen dismissed as figurative the claim that “a prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kin.” He noted (Commentary on Matthew 0:8) that if taken literally and generally “it is not historically true.” As proof he listed many prophets of the Old Testament who were honored in their local communities. He continued: “But, figuratively interpreted, it is absolutely true for we must think of Judea as their country, and . . . Israel as their kindred.” Origen then reasoned that because the people needed repeatedly to be censured, they sometimes persecuted prophets, and all remained sinful this was proof of the figurative truth, for had “their country” and “their kin” truly honored Moses, Elijah, Samuel, or Jeremiah, things would be entirely different. Surely there is nothing in the Marian traditions that would suggest that Mary was less than ardent in her support of Jesus. Likewise, it seems undeniable that Jesus did designate his brother James to lead the church and that James was one of the most important of his brother’s followers—perhaps the most important (Ward 992; Eisenman 997). It is less certain, but likely, that Simon also played an important role in his brother’s movement and that, like James, Simon was put to death as a result (Eisenman 997). Finally, there is no plausible reason to suppose that only three family members accepted Jesus while the others scoffed. What seems more plausible is that the stoning of James and some of his associates, and the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem following the failed uprising against Rome, obliterated Jerusalem Christianity, and with it went most remaining relatives of Jesus and the memory of their significant roles in the movement. This is entirely consistent with Helmut Koester’s evaluation of the Epistle of Jude. The author of this book of the New Testament identifies himself as “Jude, brother of James.” Koester noted that this identification meant “without any doubt not an ‘apostle’, but a brother of Jesus . . . The use of this pseudonym would have made sense only at an early date, as long as there was still some memory of the significance of such members of Jesus’ family” (982:246–47). It was not until I circulated a draft of this essay among historians of the early church that I learned of Richard Bauckham’s (990) extensive monograph on the part played by the relatives of Jesus in the early church.4 Had I known of it sooner, I would have been spared a great deal of scrutiny of unfamiliar primary sources, since most of what I just reported is laid out carefully and clearly in Bauckham’s first two chapters. Bauckham also argues

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persuasively that Jesus’ brothers and sisters were active and well known in the early church. He suggests that there may have been a brief period in which several of the brothers were not part of Jesus’ entourage but concludes that they did travel with him during much of his ministry, noting that “Paul includes the brothers of the Lord within the general category of apostles” (Bauckham 990:59).

The Jewish Holy Family Like Muhammad, Moses did not have a revelation until he was in his mature years, having fled Egypt and after having achieved fame as a military leader and a favorite of the pharaoh. Indeed, Moses had settled in Midian, married Zipporah, and fathered several sons before God spoke to him from a burning bush. This first revelation was extremely elaborate as were others yet to come. It seems clear that his family played a major role in Moses’ religious career. His father-in-law and his wife were active, loyal supporters. Aaron was his comrade and confidant and invites comparisons with James, while Miriam also seems to have been prominent. Although two of Aaron’s sons (Nadab and Abihu) were killed by God for an improper sacrifice (Leviticus 0:–2), his other two sons (Eleazar and Ithamar) became priests and major figures during the second generation of the movement (Numbers 3). Moses’ son Gorshom also gained considerable prominence (Exodus 2:22; Numbers 3), and Moses’ other sons, whose names are unknown, may have done so as well.

Heresy Amplified Holy Families do more than accept revelations; they encourage a recipient to have (or report) additional revelations. One of the first things Waraqa is said to have told Muhammad is to expect further revelations, and subsequently as his audience responded to each new additional portion of the Qur’an he was encouraged to seek more. The same is true in the case of Joseph Smith. Hence: 0. The greater the reinforcement received, the more likely a person is to have further revelations. This is, of course, nothing more than elementary exchange theory. Behavior that is rewarded tends to be repeated, whereas that not rewarded tends to disappear. However, I now wish to develop a rather subtle and less obvious implication of how reinforcement influences revelations. Close

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examination of the available reports on successful religious founders reveals a most interesting pattern: revelations tend to become more heretical over time. That is, the earliest revelations reported by a “prophet” tend to be substantially more conventional (less novel) than do their later ones. Let us consider Joseph Smith. His early revelations represented at most a very modest shift from conventional Christianity. In fact, the Book of Mormon contains none of the religious doctrines that now separate Latter-day Saints and other Christians, most of which were received by Joseph in Nauvoo, Illinois, nearly two decades after his initial revelation. The same principle applies to Muhammad. His earliest teachings tended to be quite general and highly compatible with Arab paganism. As Maxime Rodinson (980:96) summed up: There was nothing at all revolutionary or shocking in [Muhammad’s initial] message—or not, at least, at first sight. It did not appear to involve any major religious innovations. . . . Strangely enough, in fact, Muhammad’s Lord did not, in his first revelations, attempt to deny either the existence or the power of the other divinities. He was content merely to ignore them. There are no denunciations as there are in later messages of “those who would assign companions to Allah,” no insistence on the uniqueness of the supreme deity. . . . Criticism of the “complacency” of the rich and of their conviction that their wealth entitled them to “be independent” of all authority was perfectly acceptable in moderation. Insistence on the necessity of almsgiving was nothing out of the ordinary. . . . There was nothing in all of this unacceptable to the Meccans.

The distinctive Islamic faith Muhammad eventually taught was revealed to him progressively. In similar fashion, Jesus only slowly revealed the full scope of his mission. We do not know, of course, whether this reflected a progression in his awareness of his mission or in his willingness to break the news—a caveat that also applies to Muhammad, Joseph Smith, and other revelators. Finally, Moses’ first revelation was entirely devoted to instructing him to return to Egypt and lead his people to freedom. No doctrine was involved at all. That came after the exodus. What is to be made of this pattern? I suggest that the interaction between a successful founder and his or her followers tends to amplify heresy. Given that successful founders typically will be confronting a social crisis and the need for a new religion, there will be sufficient motive to move in new doctrinal directions. However, the initial revelations will tend not to be too heretical because there is a selection process by which the initial credibility of founders is established. Had Joseph Smith begun his career with revelations

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favoring polygamy and teaching that humans become gods, it seems very likely that he would have been rejected. But once a credible relationship exists between a founder and a set of followers, the stage is set for more daring innovations. Stated as a proposition: . The greater the amount of reinforcement received and the more revelations produced by a person, the more novel (heretical) subsequent revelations will become. At this point, of course, the model of normal revelations has become linked to the subcultural-evolution model. For now, the pattern of social interactions between founder and followers may play a major role in shaping revelations, bit by bit, in ways that go absolutely unnoticed. This will be facilitated when the process of revelation is public, as in the case of Joseph Smith and Muhammad. However, the process by which follower reactions amplify the heretical tendencies of the founder does not continue indefinitely. Indeed, as movements grow and develop more ramified organizational structures pressures build against further revelations, for organizations are served best by a completed faith. Often the antirevelational forces do not make substantial headway until the founder is gone. In any event, a movement cannot long sustain constant doctrinal revision, nor can it permit unrestricted revelation. 2. As they become successful, religious movements founded on revelations will attempt to curtail revelations or to at least prevent novel (heretical) revelations. Max Weber’s (946, 993) work on the routinization of charisma obviously applies here. Weber regarded charismatic authority as suited only for “the process of originating” religious movements and as too unstable to sustain an organized social enterprise. Moreover, upon the death or disappearance of the prophet, a new basis for authority is required anyway. Several options exist. The movement can take the position that the age of revelations is ended, for all necessary truths have been told. This has been the usual Protestant stance. Or, the capacity to reveal new truths may be associated with the leadership role—the charisma of the prophet is replaced by charisma of office, in Weber’s terms. This has been the Roman Catholic and the Mormon choice. In either case, however, doctrine is stabilized sufficiently to sustain a changeover from prophetic to administrative leadership.

Conclusion This chapter has attempted to explain how normal people, especially Joseph Smith, can talk to God while retaining a firm grip on rational thought. This

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is not to suggest that only sane (or sober) people receive revelations. Nor is it to suggest that “revelations” are never rooted in conscious fraud. In religion, as in any other sphere of life, delusion and deception exist. But, it does not seem the more reasonable choice to attribute truly profound religious culture to such disreputable sources. I close by acknowledging that in his classic monograph on Muhammad, W. Montgomery Watt (96:238) anticipated several central propositions of my model: I would begin by asserting that there is found, at least in some [persons], what may be called “creative imagination.” . . . Prophets and prophetic religions leaders, I should maintain, share in this creative imagination. They proclaim ideas connected with what is deepest and most central in human experience, with special references to the particular needs of their day and generation. The mark of the great prophet is the profound attraction of his [or her] ideas for those to whom they are addressed. Where do such ideas come from? Some would say “from the unconscious.” Religious people say “from God.” . . . Perhaps it could be maintained that these ideas of the creative imagination come from that life in a man [or woman] which is greater than himself [or herself] and is largely below the threshold of consciousness.

Notes . Mental patients who claim to talk to God or to be Muhammad are of no interest. At issue is the mental health of people who succeed in convincing others to accept the authenticity of their revelations not the incidence of religious imagery in the delusions of the mentally ill. 2. This holy period and the custom of making a pilgrimage to Mecca preceded Islam, having been well established in Arab paganism. 3. A person in a bridge position is one who “bridges,” or links, two or more networks. 4. I thank L. W. Hurtado for bringing this study to my attention.

 3. Mormon Networks of Faith

Although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began as a Holy Family, it soon spread through existing and expanding Mormon social networks. While Joseph Smith worked on the translation of the Book of Mormon, he and his wife, Emma, established their own household. Friends and neighbors soon learned about Joseph’s activities. Among them were Martin Harris—Joseph’s longtime friend, neighbor, and sometime employer—and Oliver Cowdery, a young schoolteacher who offered to serve as Joseph’s scribe. As previously mentioned, Cowdery formed a close friendship with David Whitmer and sent him a “few lines of what they had translated” from the golden plates (Porter 988:75). Whitmer then shared the news with his family, who responded with interest. Thereafter, Joseph, Emma, and Oliver Cowdery moved into the Whitmer home, where in 829 they completed the Book of Mormon manuscript. Cowdery became acquainted with Elizabeth Ann Whitmer during this stay, and he later married her. Of the first twentythree Latter-day Saints at the start of 830, just before the official organization of the Church of Jesus Christ, there were eleven Smiths, ten Whitmers, Martin Harris, and Oliver Cowdery. The first converts beyond those were “a few friends and neighbors” (Arrington and Bitton 979:2), including six Jollys, five Rockwells, and many of Joseph’s aunts, uncles, and cousins. And then there was the Knight family. As Richard Bushman explained, Mormonism “spread mainly along family lines. Not just brothers and sisters but cousins, in-laws, and uncles listened and believed. . . . The most remarkable collection of kin was the offspring and relatives of Joseph Knight, Sr., and his wife Polly Peck Knight” (984:5). Joseph Knight’s son Newell was a boyhood friend of Joseph’s. As a result, the young Mormon prophet enjoyed

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warm relations with the entire Knight family who lived in nearby Colesville, New York. Newell attended the first meetings of the LDS Church after its organization in April 830. David Whitmer baptized Newell that May. In June, Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and brothers John and David Whitmer traveled as missionaries to Colesville, where they baptized Joseph Knight Sr.; his wife, Polly Peck Knight; Newell’s parents; Polly’s brother Hezekiah and his wife, Martha Long Peck; Emily Coburn, a sister of Newell Knight’s sister-in-law; and others as well (Allen and Leonard 992:60). Within nine months, the Knight’s extended family and four other families counted for sixty converts (Bushman 984:5). This was, of course, only the start. By the end of 830 there were 280 Latter-day Saints; in 83 there were 680; and by the end of 832 there were 2,66. By 840 there were almost 7,000 members. This rapid growth was dependent on networks of kinship, neighbors, and friends. Nevertheless, most Mormon historians see this and the later growth of Mormonism in miraculous terms and tend to downplay the importance of Mormon networks of faith. For instance, Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton wrote: “One of the most significant early conversions occurred in late 830 when four missionaries who had been sent to meet the Indians in Missouri stopped at Kirtland, in northeastern Ohio, and there recruited Sidney Rigdon—a prominent Campbellite preacher who had recently broken off from the main Disciples of Christ movement—together with part of his congregation” (979:2). Thus, some historians suggest that the conversion of more than a hundred people in Kirtland, Ohio, transpired in several days and seemed to come out of the blue. In this chapter I will explain what really took place by describing and stressing the importance of social networks to the growth of Mormonism.

Conversion and Church Growth Even in tiny, pre-literate societies, people have religious choices. The most obvious of these is whether to be religious at all, and some people in all societies opt for irreligion. Even people who do choose to be religious must select a mode of religious expression from the available options. In complex societies, the range of possible religious choices usually is very substantial, but even in pre-literate groups religious factions are common and new religious movements often arise, forcing people to decide whether to shift their commitment or to stick with tradition. To explain why and how these sorts of religious choices are made, we must identify two basic varieties of choice: conversion and reaffiliation. Con-

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version refers to shifts across religious traditions. I reserve the term “conversion” for “long-distance” shifts in religious allegiance, those involving a shift across traditions as from Judaism or Roman paganism to Christianity, from Christianity to Hinduism, or from the religion of the Nuer to Islam. Reaffiliation refers to shifts within religious traditions. In most cases when people switch from one religious group to another, nothing so dramatic as conversion is involved. Rather than shifting their religious tradition, most of the time people merely join a new group within their prior tradition, as when Baptists become Catholics, or Sunni Muslims become Shi’ites. As we shall see, the process of reaffiliation is very similar to the process involved in conversion—although it is far more frequent and much less disruptive than conversion in terms of the costs to the individual and the group. However, even if it occurs far more often than does conversion, in most places and at most times there is relatively little reaffiliation taking place either. Even in the extremely diverse, unregulated, and very competitive American religious economy, most people remain within the religious organization into which they were born, and most of those who do shift from one organization to another remain within the religious tradition into which they were born; including conversions across the Christian-Jewish divide, fewer than  percent of Americans convert. Even if conversions are relatively rare, it is these shifts across traditions that are the more dramatic and that generate the greater amount of conflict. And those infrequent times when rates of conversion are high are also times of immense social and culture upheaval. Therefore, I will focus on the questions: Why and how do people sometimes choose to embrace a new faith?

Doctrinal Appeal The explanations of conversion that dominated social science until recently all share with the explanations favored by religious scholars the assumption that people convert primarily because they are attracted to particular new doctrines. However, there is disagreement over the role of rationality in this attraction. Some social scientists and psychologists have traced the appeal of religious doctrines to the irrational and often subconscious deprivations and fears said to afflict converts. Religionists stress the role of reason as converts recognize the theological virtues of one doctrine over another. In similar fashion, both earlier social scientists and religionists relied on doctrinal appeal to explain spontaneous, mass conversions. Here, too, the split is over rationality as social scientists have asserted the essential irrationality of such collective behavior (cf. Turner and Killian 987), often

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stressing “herd instincts” (Trotter 99), “contagious crowd psychology” (Le Bon 896), the “collective consciousness” (Durkheim 95), or the “collective unconscious” that Sigmund Freud (922) believed to be the source of “psychical epidemics, of historical mass convulsions” (quoted in Jones 953:84). In contrast, religionists attribute mass conversions to an effective prophet or preacher who exposes people to the light of truth and logic. For example, for Christian scholars the oldest and still dominant explanation of the rise of Christianity is that the Greco-Roman world was saved by mass conversions in response to public preaching that led reasonable people to draw reasonable conclusions (Eusebius [ca. 325] 965; Harnack 908; MacMullen 984). Later in this chapter I shall analyze mass conversions more carefully and suggest that they are mythical. Before doing so, however, I shall begin to assess the role of rationality in conversion by summarizing what social scientists actually know about this phenomenon, as opposed to what is claimed about it by those who have never witnessed it.

Networks and Conversion In the early 960s, John Lofland and I were the first social scientists to actually go out and watch people convert to a new religious movement (Lofland and Stark 965; Lofland 966). Up to that time, the most popular social scientific explanation of conversion involved the pairing of deprivation with ideological (or theological) appeal. That is, one examined the doctrines of a group to see what kinds of deprivation they addressed and then concluded (mirabile dictu!) that converts suffered from those deprivations (cf. Glock 964). For example, since Christian Science promised to restore health, this approach argues that its converts must disproportionately be drawn from those with chronic health problems or at least those who suffer from hypochondria. Of course, one could as plausibly argue the reverse—that only people with excellent health could long hold to the Christian Science doctrine that illness was mental. Such a debate can’t be settled in a library. Consequently, Lofland and I were determined to watch people go through the process of conversion and try to discover what really was involved. Moreover, we wanted to observe conversion, not simply reaffiliation or an increase in an individual’s level of commitment. That is, we wanted to look at people who were making a major religious shift, as from Christianity to Hinduism, rather than examine how Episcopalians became Presbyterians or how lifelong Christians became “born again.”

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We also wanted a group that was small enough so that two observers could provide adequate surveillance, and the converts needed to be new enough so that the group was in an early and optimistic phase of growth. After sifting through many deviant religious groups in the San Francisco Bay Area, we came upon a group of about a dozen young adults who had just moved to San Francisco from Eugene, Oregon. The group was led by Dr. Young Oon Kim, a Korean woman who had once been a professor of religion at Ewha University in Seoul. The movement she served was based in Korea, and in January 959 she arrived in Oregon to launch a mission to the United States. Dr. Kim and her young followers were the first American members of the Unification Church, which later came to be widely known in the mass media as the “Moonies.” Although the Unificationists assert that they are fully within the Christian tradition, many of their teachings are based on new revelations received by the Reverend Sun M. Moon. Among these are doctrines concerning the role of Moon as the Lord of the Second Advent, as the new messiah sent to complete the tasks of full human redemption left undone by Jesus. Consequently, the Unification Church is perceived by most Christian leaders as representing a new, heretical religious tradition, and thus Christians who become Unificationists qualify as converts. As Lofland and I settled back to watch people convert to this group the first thing we discovered was that all the current members were united by close ties of friendship predating their contact with Dr. Kim. Indeed, the first three converts had been young housewives who were next-door neighbors; they had become friends of Dr. Kim after she rented a room in the home of one of them. Subsequently, one of the husbands joined, followed by one of his friends from work. By the time we arrived to study them, the group had never succeeded in attracting a stranger. We sociologists also found it interesting that although all the converts were quick to describe how their spiritual lives had been empty and desolate prior to their conversion, many claimed they had not been particularly interested in religion before. One young man reported, “If anybody had said I was going to join up and become a missionary I would have laughed my head off. I had no use for church at all.” We further discovered that during most of her first year in the United States Dr. Kim had tried to spread her message directly by talking to various groups and by sending out many press releases. Later, in San Francisco, the group also tried to attract followers through radio spots and by renting a hall in which to hold public meetings. But these methods yielded nothing. As time passed, Lofland and I were able to observe people actually becoming Unificationists. The first several converts were old friends or relatives of


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members who came from Oregon to visit. Subsequent converts were people who formed close friendships with one or more members of the group. Eventually, Lofland and I realized that of all the people the Unificationists encountered in their efforts to spread their faith the only ones who joined were those whose interpersonal attachments to members overbalanced their attachments to nonmembers. In part this is because social networks make religious beliefs plausible, and new social networks thereby make new religious beliefs plausible. Social networks also reward people for conforming—in this case by converting. In effect, conversion seldom is about seeking or embracing an ideology; it is about bringing one’s religious behavior into alignment with that of one’s friends and family members. This is simply an application of the highly respected control theory of deviant behavior, which is based on the rational actor premise (Toby 957; Hirschi 969; Stark and Bainbridge [987] 996; Gottfredson and Hirschi 990). Rather than asking why people deviate, why they break laws and norms, control theorists ask: Why does anyone ever conform? Their answer is posed in terms of stakes in conformity. That is, rather than arguing that people are driven to deviance to compensate for various deprivations, control theory postulates that people conform when they believe they have more to lose by being detected in deviance than they stand to gain from the deviant act. Some people deviate while others conform because people differ in their stakes in conformity. That is, some people simply have far less to lose than do others. A major stake in conformity consists of our attachments to others. Most of us conform to retain the good opinion of our friends and family. But some people lack attachments. Their rates of deviance are much higher than are those of people with an abundance of attachments. Becoming a Unificationist in the twentieth century is an act of deviance, as was becoming a Christian in the first century. Such conversions violate norms defining legitimate religious affiliations and identities. Lofland and I saw many people who spent some time with the Unificationists and expressed considerable interest in their doctrines, but who never joined. In every instance these people had many strong attachments to nonmembers who did not approve of the group. Of persons who did join, many were newcomers to San Francisco whose attachments were all to people far away. They formed strong friendships with group members, and these attachments were not counterbalanced because distant friends and families had no knowledge of the conversion-in-process. In several instances a parent or sibling came to San Francisco intending to intervene after having learned of the conversion. Those who lingered eventually joined up too. Keep in mind that becoming a Unificationist may have been regarded as deviant behavior

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by outsiders, but it was an act of conformity for those whose most significant attachments were to Unificationists. During the three decades since Lofland and I first published our conclusion that attachments lie at the heart of conversion and therefore that conversion tends to proceed along social networks formed by interpersonal attachments, many others have found the same to be true in a large variety of religious groups around the world. A study based on Dutch data (Kox, Meeus, and Hart 99) cited twenty-five additional empirical studies, all of which supported the initial finding. And that list was far from complete. Now let’s analyze these findings more closely and formulate some propositions about religious choices.

Choice and Capital The first proposition in my theory notes that people attempt to make rational choices, which substantially expands the principle of microeconomics stating that people attempt to maximize. As used in economics, maximization usually involves capital and the attempt to acquire the most while expending the least. Here, I will expand upon this usage to examine far more general forms of capital: social and religious. Social capital consists of interpersonal attachments. The word “capital” is used to note that our relationships with others represent very substantial investments of time, energy, emotion, and even material. Moreover, we can draw upon this capital in times of need—our friends will rally to our support. Put another way, most people, most of the time, have accumulated a network of relationships that they regard as valuable. When people base their religious choices on the preferences of those to whom they are attached, they conserve (maximize) their social capital—they do not risk their attachments by failure to conform, and therefore they do not face the potential need to replace their attachments. This principle can be stated: . In making religious choices, people will attempt to conserve their social capital. Variations in the religious composition of individual social networks and relationships influence the religious choices an individual makes (Ellison 995:9). Generic variations in social capital result in the following propositions. 2. Under normal circumstances, most people will neither convert nor reaffliliate. Here we see why children usually adhere to the faith of their parents and relatives. By doing so, they protect their kinship ties. By remaining within the faith of those to whom one is attached, one maximizes social capital by retaining the good opinion of others. Research shows that most

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people do remain within the religious organization in which they were raised (Stark and Glock 968; Kluegel 980; Sherkat and Wilson 995; Sherkat 998). The qualifying phrase “under normal circumstances” is included to recognize that social crises can greatly alter social networks so that most people are deficient in social ties. For example, the two great plagues that swept the Roman empire in the second and third centuries left many people relatively unattached, their families and close friends having died or fled. This not only made conversion to Christianity less expensive in terms of social capital but also profitable for those who replaced their lost social ties to pagans with new ones to Christians (Stark 996a). 3. To the extent that people have or develop stronger attachments to those committed to a different version of their traditional religion than those committed to their traditional religion, they will reaffiliate. 4. To the extent that people have or develop stronger attachments to those committed to a religion in a different tradition than to those committed to their traditional religion or a version of it, they will convert. Marriage and migration are major factors tending to produce shifts in attachments. Newcomers must make new friends. Marriage tends to attach each spouse to a new kinship network. Age also plays a role, since people are more apt to marry or migrate when they are young, and many people shift their social networks upon leaving their parents’ home. Consequently, reaffiliation and conversion will be more prevalent among the geographically mobile, teenagers and young adults, at marriage and following a divorce. Each of these generalizations is supported by a wealth of research (Beit-Hallahmi and Argyle 997; Wuthnow 978; Tamney and Condran 980; Tamney and Hassan 987; Iannaccone 990; Stark and Bainbridge 985, 997). Thus far I have minimized the importance of religious factors in religious choices in order to emphasize the importance of social capital. But, in fact, selecting a religion is not exactly like joining a secular club. Belief is the central aspect of religion, and therefore one’s beliefs do matter but in a more subtle fashion than has been assumed by those who attribute religious choices to doctrinal appeal. To understand this point, it will be necessary to introduce the concept of religious capital (Iannaccone 990). The term “culture” refers to the complex pattern of living that directs human social life, the things each new generation must learn and to which they eventually may add. That is, culture consists of the sum total of human creations—intellectual, technical, and moral. To become normal humans, all newborns must master the cultural package deemed essential in their society. As previously defined, religion is a purely cultural phenomenon, a set of very general explanations that justify and specify the terms of exchange with a god or gods. Hence, among the things each newborn needs to master

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is the cultural “bundle” composed of the religion of his or her parents. The process of acquiring culture is known as socialization. And when we are being socialized into our culture we also are investing in it—expending time and effort in learning, understanding, and remembering cultural material. For example, persons raised to be Christians have accumulated a substantial store of Christian culture, including doctrines, prayers, hymns, rituals, history, and personal memories. The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (984) coined the term cultural capital to identify the investments or sunk costs that culture represents to each individual. Thus, people tend to stay put and not to migrate or emigrate not only to protect social capital but also to protect their cultural capital. For example, being already proficient in French, one maximizes by remaining within a French-speaking community rather than moving and having to invest in learning a new language and all the other essential parts of a new culture. By the same token, being already proficient in Roman Catholicism, one maximizes by remaining within the bosom of the church (Iannaccone 990). 5. Religious capital consists of the degree of mastery of and attachment to a particular religious culture. Religious capital has two parts, which can be roughly identified as culture and emotions. To participate fully in any religion requires mastery of a lot of culture, for example: how and when to make the sign of the cross; whether and when to shout “Amen”; the words to liturgies and prayers; passages of scripture; stories and history; music; even jokes. Moreover, through practice (especially with others), one ordinarily infuses religious culture with emotions, such as in the common expression “It just wouldn’t be Christmas without.” Over time these emotional bonds tend to become intrinsic to one’s biography. Indeed, the effects of religious activities, such as prayer, rituals, miracles, and mystical experiences, build up over a lifetime, not only increasing confidence in the truth of a religion but also strengthening emotional ties to a specific bundle of religious culture. It is these emotional as well as cultural investments that accumulate over time and constitute religious capital. It is impossible to transfer all one’s religious capital and quite difficult to transfer many portions of it. That is what gives stability to the religious life. 6. In making religious choices, people will attempt to conserve their religious capital. When faced with making religious choices, people will attempt to save as much of their religious capital as they can and to expend as little investment in new capital as possible. A number of additional propositions follow: 7. The greater their religious capital, the less likely people are to either reaffliliate or convert. Generally speaking, the greater their commitment to their

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original religious heritage, the greater store of religious capital people will amass. Hence, the more they have invested in a faith, the more they have at risk should they change faiths. Looking at this from a slightly different direction, Darren Sherkat (997) has noted that the more actively and the longer people practice a religion the stronger their preferences for that religion—preference deepens with additional consumption. Thus, people who are deeply committed to any particular faith do not go out and join some other faith. For example, Mormon missionaries who called upon the Unificationists were immune to conversion, despite forming warm relationships with several members. Indeed, the Unificationist who previously had “no use for church at all” was typical. Converts were not former atheists, but they were essentially unchurched and many had not paid any particular attention to religious questions. Thus, the Unificationists quickly learned that they were wasting their time at church socials or frequenting denominational student centers. They did far better in places where they came in contact with the uncommitted. Research confirms that converts overwhelmingly are recruited from the ranks of those lacking a prior religious commitment or having only a nominal connection to a religious group (Stark and Bainbridge 980b, 985, [987] 996). The same holds for reaffiliation. Thus, in the United States the single most unstable “religion” of origin is no religious preference. Whereas the great majority of those raised with a religious affiliation retain that affiliation, the great majority of those who say that their family had no religion join a religion as adults (Kluegel 980; Sherkat and Wilson 995; Stark 998b). In his long-term study of a Mexican millenarian colony of “Traditional Catholics” (who reject the Vatican II reforms), Miguel C. Leatham (997:299) found that those who joined had been “quite marginal Catholics at the time of recruitment,” having “extremely low mass attendance,” and some not even having been baptized. Thus, a basis for these conversions and reaffiliations is that a lack of prior religious commitment makes it inexpensive (in terms of religious capital) to take up a new faith. This explanation contradicts the more conventional interpretation that it is a “felt need” for religion that impels the unaffiliated to faith. In fact, converts very seldom are religious seekers, and conversion seldom is the culmination of a conscious search—most converts do not find a new faith so much as the new faith finds them. Had social scientists not gone out and watched people as they converted, this point might well have been missed entirely because when people retrospectively describe their conversions they tend to stress theology. Many studies of conversion have noted that one of its primary aspects is the “reconstruction” of the convert’s “biography” to show how conversion was the end result of a self-conscious search for truth.

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This is neither duplicitous nor irrational. Rather, having embraced a new faith, people look back over their prior lives and reinterpret various past events and thoughts in light of the present (Beckford 978; Snow and Phillips 980; Snow and Machalek 983; Staples and Mauss 987; Machalek and Snow 993). For example, when asked why they converted, Unificationists invariably noted the irresistible appeal of the Divine Principles (the group’s scripture), suggesting that only the blind could reject such obvious and powerful truths. In making these claims, converts implied (and often stated) that their path to conversion was the end product of a search for faith. But Lofland and I knew better because we had met them well before they had learned to appreciate the doctrines, before they had learned how to testify to their faith, back when they were not seeking faith at all—when most of them regarded the religious beliefs of their new set of friends as quite odd. Research by Hsing-Kuang Chao (995) helps to clarify how doctrine retrospectively becomes the central factor in conversion. He studied a small, Chinese Protestant sect group in Los Angeles whose members are converted from the ranks of Chinese non-Christians. The group publishes a very lengthy church bulletin, and for a number of years a detailed account of each new convert’s journey to faith was published in the bulletin. While these accounts invariably emphasized the role of doctrine, they also offered much secondary information about the social relations by which the person was recruited. Eventually, however, the flow of converts became too large for such lengthy published accounts. In editing them down, the bulletin editors excised all mention of social relations, leaving only doctrinal appeals. They did so not to deceive but to preserve their space for what they believed to be the more important factor. When converts “reconstruct” their biographies, the same principles come into play. That is, because the essence of religion is a belief system, religious adherents really have little choice other than to make doctrine the explicit center of attention. However, that doesn’t prevent outside observers from recognizing that converts typically have a great deal still to learn about doctrines subsequent to their initial professions of faith. Indeed, this recognition prompted Miguel C. Leatham (997:295) to distinguish two stages in the process of taking on a new religious identity: recruitment and conversion. Based on several years of fieldwork in a Mexican millenarian colony, he discovered that doctrine was “a minimal or negligible” factor in “decisions to join.” Rather, people were drawn to the group through their network ties to members, thus becoming recruits, a stage of belonging prior to knowing much about what the group believed. Leatham defined conversion as the process of mastering the group’s religious culture, and thus the path to full membership began with recruitment and passed through conversion.

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8. Reaffiliation will be far more prevalent than conversion (under normal conditions). This reflects the fact that reaffiliation is far less costly in terms of religious capital. 9. When people reaffliliate, they will tend to select an option that maximizes their conservation of religious capital. People raised on one Jewish Hasidic body are more apt to shift to another than to join a Conservative Synagogue, are more likely to join a Conservative than a Reform Synagogue, and are far more apt to become Reform Jews than Unitarians. The empirical literature is entirely supportive of this proposition. When they do shift their affiliations, most people switch to a religious body very similar to the one in which they were raised. That is, people raised in an evangelical Protestant denomination tend to switch to another, a process that Reginald Bibby and Merlin Brinkerhoff (973) described as “the circulation of saints.” Many subsequent studies have found that the tendency to select a new church that very closely resembles one’s previous affiliation holds across the theological spectrum, for that is the choice that maximizes the conservation of religious capital (Ellison and Sherkat 990; Sherkat 993; Sherkat and Wilson 995; Sherkat 998). 0. When people convert, they will tend to select an option that maximizes their conservation of religious capital. It may be helpful to imagine a young person from a Christian background and living in a Christian society who is deciding whether to join the Latter-day Saints or the Hare Krishnas. By becoming a Latter-day Saint, this person retains his or her entire Christian culture and simply adds to it. The Mormon missionaries, noting that the person has copies of the Old Testament and the New Testament, suggest that an additional scripture, the Book of Mormon, is needed to complete the set. In contrast, the Hare Krishna missionaries note that the person has the wrong scriptures and must discard the Bible in exchange for the Bhagavad Gita. The principle of the conservation of religious capital predicts (and explains) why the overwhelming majority of converts within a Christian context select the Mormon rather than the Hare Krishna option (Stark 996b). Similarly, in a study of evangelical Chinese Christian churches in the United States, Fenggang Yang (998) found the “churches [to be] emphasizing the compatibility of Confucianism and Protestantism” and in this way helped converts preserve their cultural capital. Yang wrote that “because most Chinese regard Confucianism not as a religion but as a traditional philosophy of life, evangelical Chinese Christians can retain Confucian moral values without falling into a stigmatized syncretism” (998:253). This allowed the Chinese churches to keep cherished Confucian values regarding family and ascetic ethics and still incorporate Christianity’s teachings on the super-

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natural. Evangelical Christianity provided a new foundation for a longstanding morality and allowed a substantial conservation of cultural capital. My final propositions concern marriage and religious choices. On the basis of the conservation of both cultural and religious capital: . Most people will marry within their religious group. This is especially the case in social settings where there is a great deal of conflict among religious groups, and for individuals where none of the available alternative choices closely resembles their religion of origin—a limiting factor for Roman Catholics as compared with Protestants, for example. 2. In mixed religious marriages, spouses usually will be of very similar religious backgrounds, belonging to groups within the same religious tradition. Thus, in rising order of frequency: Baptists will marry Nazarenes and Presbyterians will marry Episcopalians; Protestants will marry Protestants; Christians will marry Christians. These patterns are well known on the basis of research in both the United States and Canada (Lehrer and Chiswick 993). Also pertinent here is the literature on divorce and intermarriage, which shows that marital instability increases with the dissimilarity of the initial religions of the spouses (Becker, Landes, and Michael 977; Lehrer and Chiswick 993). For example, a marriage between a Mormon and a nonMormon is three times more apt to end in divorce than is a Mormon’s marriage to another Mormon. 3. Mixed religious marriages are more likely to the degree that one or both spouses lack(s) religious capital. An uncommitted Jew is more similar to an uncommitted Episcopalian than are two committed members of these two groups. Or, if one spouse is uncommitted, he or she is less different from a religious partner than is a potential spouse who is committed to a very different religion. Finally: 4. When a mixed religious marriage occurs, the couple maximizes their religious capital when the partner with the lower level of commitment reaffiliates or converts to the religion of the more committed partner. This is a restatement of what has come to be known as “Greeley’s Law”: “there is a tendency for religious change . . . to take place in association with marriage, so that at least denominational homogeneity is guaranteed to the family. Normally the change is in the direction of the denomination of the more devout partner” (Greeley 972). So far as I am able to determine, there is no actual research on this proposition. This entire discussion on social, cultural, and religious capital investments provides a compelling explanation of why ethnicity and religion frequently combine to form religious organizations that seem impervious to reaffiliation and conversion. These overlapping investments frequently make an investment in one an investment in all. When members make


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heavy investments in their group’s religious and cultural capital (e.g., language, rituals, saints, and songs specific to their religio-ethnic group), and their interpersonal attachments are primarily with others holding the same investments, any attempts to abandon either the religion or the ethnicity will result in heavy personal losses. Moreover, in many environments, these ethnic and religious commitments also are wedded to strong political positions forming an allegiance that lasts for centuries. International and historical examples abound regarding the durability and intensity of these allegiances. Indeed, even a cursory understanding of recent events in the Middle East and Eastern Europe requires an awareness of the social, cultural, and religious capital investments of the people. These overlapping allegiances also help to explain why religious reaffiliation and conversion will increase for ethnic congregations when the members’ investments in religious and cultural capital declines. Over the past century this has been especially evident in ethnic congregations in the United States when second and third generations abandon the use of their native tongue, give less attention to their unique rituals or patron saints, and move out of their ethnic neighborhood. Each of these changes increases contacts and affiliations outside the group and reduces the investments members make in the religious and cultural capital of past generations. As Irish American Catholics would lament when hearing of a fellow member becoming Republican in the early twentieth century, “first they leave the party, then they leave the faith.”

Mass Conversion As mentioned earlier, there is an extensive social science literature within the subfield known as “collective behavior” that attempts to explain why mass conversions occur, why people in substantial numbers suddenly take up a new faith without any apparent prior period of preparation. This entire approach suffers from two equally fatal defects. First, what are called theories are little more than ugly imputations. What was explained by Gustave Le Bon (896) when he wrote that riots occur when “the mind of the crowd” takes over? Two leaders in the field of collective behavior, Ralph H. Turner and Lewis M. Killian (987:5), note the contribution made by Everett Martin (920) when “he coined the memorable saying that the crowd consists of ‘people going crazy together.’ ” Memorable, perhaps, but utterly uninformative. The second defect is that while many people have seen riots, no one has seen a mass conversion—or at least we have no credible firsthand accounts.1 All we really have are conclusions that mass conversions must have taken

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place. The most famous of these conclusions credits mass conversions as playing a major role in the rise of Christianity. Let’s pause and evaluate this conclusion. Mass conversions have been central to the Christian story from its earliest days: crowds gathered, listened, marveled, and were saved. Thus, Acts 2:4 reports that after Peter preached to a multitude “there were added that day about three thousand souls.” Writing in about a.d. 325, Eusebius (III 37.3) tells us that “at first hearing whole multitudes of men eagerly embraced in their souls piety towards the Creator of the universe.” That mass conversions built Christianity has seemed obvious. Adolf Harnack (908:2:335–36) put it plainly: how else can we understand the “inconceivable rapidity” of Christian growth and “astonishing expansion” of the movement? Indeed, Harnack (908:2: fn. 335) reminded his readers of St. Augustine’s insight that the greatest miracle of all would have been for Christianity to grow as quickly as it did without the aid of miracles. In his distinguished study entitled Christianizing the Roman Empire, Ramsay MacMullen (984:29) also stressed the arithmetical necessity for there having been mass conversions. Because “very large numbers are obviously involved,” Christian growth could not have been limited to an individual mode of conversion but required “successes en masse.” This is all very troublesome because informed social scientific opinion dismisses the possibility of spontaneous mass conversions and rejects doctrinal appeal as the primary cause of conversion (Machalek and Snow 993). That is, from the perspective of the new paradigm, the kind of mass conversions described by Eusebius and accepted by historians ever since would, indeed, be miraculous. And if the rise of Christianity can be explained only by resorting to miracles, then social science would seem to have little to contribute. Fortunately, the “facts” justifying the miraculous assumption were wrong. The only reason people believed that the arithmetic showed mass conversion was required was because no one ever bothered to do the actual arithmetic—until recently (Stark 996a). A brief summary suffices here. There is general agreement among scholars that Christians in the GrecoRoman world numbered somewhere between 5 and 7 million in a.d. 300. How this total was reached from a tiny starting point of, say, ,000 Christians in a.d. 40 is the arithmetic challenge. At first glance, growth of this magnitude might seem a miraculous achievement. But suppose we assume that the Christian rate of growth during this period was similar to that of the Mormon rate of growth over the past century, which has exceeded 40 percent per decade (Stark 984a, 996a). If the early Christians were able to match the LDS growth rate, then their “miracle” is fully accomplished in

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the time history allows. That is, from a starting point of ,000 Christians in a.d. 40, a growth rate of 40 percent per decade (or 3.42 percent per year) results in a total of 6,299,832 Christians in the year 300. Moreover, because compounded rates result in exponential growth, there is a huge numerical increase from slightly more than  million Christians in the year 250 to more than 6 million in 300. These figures give further confidence in the projections since historians have long believed that a rapid increase in numerical growth occurred at this time (cf. Gager 975). Clearly, then, the rise of Christianity could easily have been accomplished in accord with our current understanding of why and how conversion takes place, and social science is sufficient unto the task at hand.

On Scientific Generalization This account of the rise of Christianity is, of course, based on a rather sparse historical record. In contrast, the rise of Mormonism has been very carefully documented from the beginning. It, too, has grown very rapidly, and some have supposed that at least one mass conversion took place—in Kirtland, Ohio, in 830. It will be helpful, therefore, to examine early Mormon growth. In doing so, I will show that what took place in Kirtland was not a mass conversion and suggest how Mormonism illustrates and conforms to many of the propositions developed above. Not surprisingly, many historians believe that cultures and eras verge on the unique. In his very thoughtful response to my use of the network theory of conversion to discuss the success of the mission to the Jews, Ronald F. Hock noted that I seem to think that networks are not “all that different from period to period, society to society” (986:2–3). He then pointed out that the networks utilized by Mormons are those consisting of a member’s family, relatives, and friends, but are ancient networks the same? Ancient cities are not modern ones, and ancient networks that were centered in aristocratic households included more than family and friends: domestic slaves, freedmen, and perhaps parasites, teachers, athletic trainers, and travelers. In addition, urban life was lived more in public, so that recruitment could proceed along more extensive and complex networks than we find among Mormons in our more nuclear and anonymous cities and suburbs.

I am certain that Hock is correct, but I am unrepentant. What he is noting are details that might tell us how to discover networks should we be transported to ancient Antioch, yet they have no implications for the network

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proposition per se. However people constitute structures of direct interpersonal attachments, those structures will define the lines through which conversion will most readily proceed. The definition of network is not locked to time and space, nor is the conversion proposition. Therefore, twentiethcentury Mormon networks of faith should be germane to my study of their nineteenth-century counterparts. Still, many historians seem to have considerable trouble with the idea of general theories because they have not been trained in the distinction between concepts and instances. Proper scientific concepts are abstract and identify a class of “things” to be regarded as alike. As such, concepts must apply to all possible members of the class—all that have been, are, shall be, or could be. The concept of “chair,” defined as all objects created to seat a lone individual and support his or her back, is an abstraction. We cannot see the concept of chair. It is an intellectual creation existing only in our minds. But we can see many actual chairs, and as we look at some we discover wide variation in size, shape, materials, color, and the like. Moreover, when we look at chairs used in the ancient world, we perceive some very noticeable differences from the chairs of today. Nevertheless, each is a chair so long as it meets the definition set out above—other somewhat similar objects belong to other object classes, such as “stool” and “couch.” These points apply as fully to the concept of social network as to the concept of chair. The concept of social network also exists only in our minds. All that we can see are specific instances of the class-networks involving some set of individuals. As with chairs, the shapes and sizes of social networks may differ greatly across time and space, and the processes by which networks form may vary as greatly as do techniques for making chairs. But these variations in details never result in chairs becoming pianos, nor do variations in their makeup ever turn social networks into collections of strangers. It is only through the use of abstract concepts, linked by abstract propositions, that science exists. Consider a physics that must generate a new rule of gravity for each object in the universe. And it is precisely the abstract generality of science that makes it possible for social science to contribute anything to our understanding of history, let alone to justify efforts to reconstruct history from social scientific theories.

The Network Basis of Mormon Growth Let’s return to my opening story to discover how early Mormonism spread from New York to Ohio and from Ohio to England. In 830, Parley P.

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Pratt, a Campbellite, signed over his farm outside Kirtland, Ohio, to his brother William and set out to preach the gospel. Relying on the Holy Ghost, he and his new bride, Thankful, boarded a lake schooner for Buffalo and there transferred to a canal boat bound for Albany via the Erie Canal. On the way, twenty-three-year-old Pratt felt impressed to get off the boat. Sending his wife on ahead, he disembarked at Newark, New York, and walked until he found a pastor willing to let him preach that evening. After the meeting, a member of the congregation told Pratt he had acquired a strange volume, the Book of Mormon, which had just been published in nearby Palmyra. A premillenialist, Pratt was eagerly awaiting new prophecies, so he borrowed the book. He was so impressed by what he read that he walked thirty miles to Palmyra to meet Joseph Smith (Pratt [874] 985). Arriving in Palmyra, Pratt learned that Joseph Smith had moved to Harmony, Pennsylvania, so he discussed the Book of Mormon with Joseph’s older brother Hyrum. They talked all night. Then Pratt walked back to Newark, where he was scheduled to preach for two evenings. In between evening sermons, Pratt read the Book of Mormon. By the third day, he concluded he could no longer preach the Campbellite message. He walked back to Palmyra and requested baptism from Hyrum Smith. The following evening, Pratt gathered with the local Latter-day Saints in the home of Peter Whitmer Sr.; Pratt felt moved being in the very place where the translation had been completed and among persons whose names appeared in the front of the book as witnesses to the plates. Pratt found the gathering to be “full of joy, faith, humility and charity” (Pratt [874] 985:24). A day later, Oliver Cowdery baptized him in Seneca Lake. Although it is quite unnecessary for social theories to fit every individual case, it will be useful to pause here and consider the case of Parley Pratt in light of my propositions about conversion. Pratt began preparing for his conversion long before he ever encountered the Book of Mormon. Under the guidance of his local pastor Sidney Rigdon (of whom, much more later) he had felt called to go out to preach and to search for signs of the Second Advent. Unlike most converts he was, in fact, a seeker. Moreover, his large stock of religious capital was contingent on his discovery of new tidings concerning the arrival of the millennium. Even with this expectation, a book did not convert him. Had no one been home at the Smith residence when he arrived, he would not have become a Latter-day Saint, or at least not at that particular time. It was crucial that he formed a relationship with Hyrum Smith and subsequently was immersed (even if briefly) in the tightly knit network of Mormon founders. Moreover, it also was essential that this encounter came at a moment when Pratt was, at least situationally, very

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deficient in social capital. He had uprooted himself from Kirtland. Then he had sent his new wife off to her family while he wandered among strangers in western New York. His meeting with Hyrum Smith offered not only the prospect of enhanced religious capital but of an immediate and very substantial increase in his social capital too. Soon after Pratt’s baptism, Joseph Smith received a revelation that it was time to dispatch Mormon missionaries to the Indians in Missouri. Oliver Cowdery led the missionary party, which included Peter Whitmer Jr., Ziba Peterson, and Parley Pratt. Pratt convinced his fellow missionaries that a fertile missionary opportunity awaited them along the way in Kirtland, where they were sure to get a favorable hearing from the local minister, and Pratt’s mentor, Sidney Rigdon. Sidney Rigdon is one of the more colorful characters in nineteenth-century American religious history (Van Wagoner 994). An extraordinary preacher, he was equally extraordinary in his pursuit of religious novelty. (He was eventually excommunicated by the Latter-day Saints and went on to other affiliations.) He began as an itinerant Baptist preacher, established congregations in Mentor and in Kirtland (neighboring towns in Ohio), but was expelled by the Baptists for his denial of infant damnation. After several years of working as a tanner with his brother-in-law, Rigdon became enamored with the teachings of Alexander Campbell and resumed his ministry, managing to quickly rebuild his following in Mentor and Kirtland. But by the time the Mormon missionaries arrived in Kirtland, he had been expelled by Campbell because of his “organization of a communal society” (Bushman 984:74) inspired by Robert Owens’s New Harmony commune. Nevertheless, Rigdon still led his congregation comprised of those who had followed him from the Baptists and then into the Campbellites and out again—a testament to the strength of his leadership. Lydia Partridge undoubtedly spoke for many of her fellow congregants when she explained that although she had joined the Campbellite Church, “she was in reality a ‘Rigdonite’ ” (Anderson 97:490). On October 28, 830, Pratt and Cowdery called on the Rigdon home. Pratt told Rigdon: “You brought truth to me, I now ask you as a friend to read [the Book of Mormon] for my sake” (Van Wagoner 994:59). After reading for about an hour, Rigdon threw down the book, pronouncing it a “silly fabrication.” But then he picked it up again and read all night. The next morning Rigdon dropped in on a neighboring family during breakfast and told them he had been reading a fascinating book that might very well be a discovery of great importance and would usher in the millennium (Van Wagoner 994:49–64). At this point Rigdon agreed to let Pratt and Cowdery preach to his con-

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gregation. A large number turned out to hear the two men claiming to be “special messengers of the Living God, sent to preach the gospel in its purity, as it was anciently preached by the Apostles.” When the duo finished they asked Rigdon if he would like to comment. He told the congregation that their message was “of an extraordinary character” and “demanded their most serious consideration,” as he was giving it his (Van Wagoner 994:59; Anderson 97:483). During the next few days Rigdon continued to read the Book of Mormon and to discuss it with Pratt and Cowdery. Cowdery took this opportunity to explain how he and others were present during the translation process and that Joseph Smith’s behavior was that of a reader, not a writer. The dictation came smoothly, without false starts or long pauses (Bushman 984:96). When Rigdon learned that Joseph was not yet twenty-five and had “hardly a common school education,” he remarked, “if that was all the education he had, he never wrote the book” (Van Wagoner 994:60). Two weeks later Rigdon accepted the new faith as being “of God” (Anderson 97; Pratt [874] 985; Van Wagoner 994; Anderson 996). After some discussion regarding whether he needed to be rebaptized, Rigdon agreed to do so (Anderson 97:480). But first he gathered his followers and devoted an emotional, two-hour sermon to explaining why he was going to make a new commitment—he was so eloquent that many in the audience “melted into tears” (quoted in Anderson 97:487). The next morning, November 5, 830, Oliver Cowdery baptized Rigdon and his wife, Phebe, in front of a large group. As he emerged from the river, Rigdon explained that he had never been able to satisfy his religious yearnings until that moment. Finally, he asked if anyone else would like to come forward. One man did and was baptized on the spot. Rigdon then called for more converts and a few others came forward. There were even more baptisms the next day. Isaac Morley, leader of “The Big Family,” the utopian commune Rigdon had initiated resulting in his dismissal from the Disciples of Christ, brought all seventeen members to be baptized (Van Wagoner 994:50; Allen and Leonard 992:64). This was a “family” in more than just name because it included Morley’s wife, Lucy, and his three older daughters; his sister Diantha, her husband, Titus Billings, and several of their older children; and Lyman and Harriet Wight and several of their children. Other members of Rigdon’s congregation also accepted baptism that day and the next—most of them coming forward in kinship clusters (Grandstaff and Backman 990; Backman 983). Before long there were about 30 Latter-day Saints in tiny Kirtland, or about half of all the Latter-day Saints in the world (Anderson 97:478). It must be noted that Rigdon was not the only link to the congregation.

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Parley Pratt also had many friends and relatives among them, including his brother William (Pratt already had baptized his brother Orson before leaving New York). Soon Sidney Rigdon went east to meet the prophet Joseph Smith. They hit it off extremely well—Joseph decided to consolidate the Mormon movement in Kirtland. Thereafter, Martin Harris led about fifty members from Palmyra, Newel Knight led about seventy of his kinfolk from Colesville, and the prophet’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, led a third group of about eighty from the Waterloo-Fayette area. Upon her arrival in Kirtland, Lucy lived for a time in Isaac Morley’s communal dwelling. By gathering in Kirtland, the Latter-day Saints maximized their social capital. Newcomers arrived in closely knit social networks and soon merged with the network of local converts. In doing so newcomers avoided the social disapproval directed toward them elsewhere—the Latter-day Saints had become the dominant social group in the Kirtland vicinity. The spate of marriages that took place during the next year suggests how rapidly social bonds intensified in the new Mormon community. Indeed, the desire to preserve this level of community and local dominance prompted all subsequent Mormon migrations, including the trek to Utah. But social capital alone did not prompt and sustain LDS conversion. As most new Mormon converts were premillenarian Protestants, their conversion involved but a modest investment in new religious capital. And we must recognize that sometimes people find it very rewarding to make such investments. In Kirtland, then, the Latter-day Saints finally possessed the eagerly awaited new tidings and, as it turned out, an exciting new history of the ancient Americas. Even as LDS social networks became increasingly far flung and their numbers larger, kinship ties continued to be important. The underlying Mormon social structure remained a conglomeration of various kinship networks, often interlocking. These networks spread Mormonism throughout the United States and eventually the world, just as they had spread Mormonism from Palmyra to Kirtland. Let us consider several important examples. In April 830, about the same time that Parley Pratt was baptized in Palmyra, Samuel Smith, one of Joseph’s brothers, met Phinehas Young, a Methodist circuit rider living nearby in Mendon, New York. Phinehas accepted a copy of the Book of Mormon because his sister Rhoda and her husband, John Greene, who also was a Methodist circuit rider, had told him about the new book. Samuel Smith had given Rhoda a copy during his previous visit to Mendon. Phinehas wanted a copy so he could refute it among his fellow Methodists, especially since the Greenes thought it had merit. But after studying it for a week, he could not find the errors he expected. So he

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lent the Book of Mormon to his father, Joseph Young, who thought it was “the greatest work . . . he had ever seen,” and then Joseph gave it to his sister Fanny, who called it “a revelation” (as quoted in Arrington 985:9–20). But nothing happened—the Youngs remained Methodists. The Youngs’ reaction underlines the principle that scriptures do not make converts by themselves. Despite their positive reactions to the Book of Mormon, it required two more years of interacting with committed Latter-day Saints before the Youngs were ready to convert. In April 832, John Young and his wife, Hannah, four sons, three daughters-in-law, two daughters, and two sons-in-law were baptized. A month later two more of Joseph Young’s daughters and their husbands followed suit; the next year another Young son, daughter, and son-in-law were baptized. Fanny Young’s sister-in-law, Vilate, was married to Heber C. Kimball, one of Brigham Young’s closest friends. Indeed, the Youngs and the Kimballs were cousins. The Kimballs were baptized a day after the first group of Youngs was baptized (Arrington 985:6, 28–32). Brigham Young and Heber Kimball went on to lead the Church of Jesus Christ through its crucial first decades in Utah: Young as Joseph Smith’s immediate successor and Kimball as Young’s First Counselor in the First Presidency. Not surprisingly, Young and Kimball were both distant cousins of Joseph Smith, kinship ties of which they all were well aware (Quinn 997:65). By building strong friendship ties to several members of one family, the Latter-day Saints gained twenty converts. The same social phenomenon occurred across the Atlantic several years later. In 837, Joseph Smith sent missionaries to Great Britain. Many scholars, myself included, have suggested how economic and social conditions in Great Britain at this time created a receptive audience for the LDS message (Arrington 985; Allen, Esplin, and Whittaker 992; Stark 998a), but my interest here is limited to the network aspects. How did the LDS missionaries get started? Who would listen? Who had reason to trust them? After landing in Liverpool, the Mormon missionaries went directly to the textile manufacturing city of Preston, where they were given access to the pulpits of three nonconformist churches. One of the missionaries, Joseph Fielding, had made these arrangements well in advance of their departure. Not surprisingly, the three English pastors who opened their pulpits to the missionaries were Fielding’s brother and his two brothers-in-law (Allen, Esplin, and Whittaker 992). Over the next several weeks the missionaries preached Mormonism to great effect. The LDS British mission became so successful that for a period beginning in the late 840s there were more Latter-day Saints in the British Isles than in the United States, despite largescale Mormon emigration from Britain to the United States. In fact, the

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combination of Latter-day Saints in Britain and first-generation British LDS immigrants made up the majority of all Latter-day Saints from 845 until 895 (Stark 998a).

Modern Mormon Networks In 2004, when there are 2 million Latter-day Saints worldwide, networks are still the basis of Mormon proselytizing success. Not surprisingly, missionaries work through such networks whenever possible. However, to fill the time of the many available missionaries, approaches are often made, aided little, if at all, by network supports. But, ideally, missionaries do not serve as the primary instrument of recruitment to Mormonism. Rather, church members recruit as they construct intimate interpersonal ties with non–Latter-day Saints and thus link them into a Mormon social network. Mormon leaders are acutely aware that such tie-forming is the best way to recruit. In consequence, they give considerable attention to developing an explicit networking strategy among rank-and-file members. All social scientists interested in religious recruitment could learn much from a detailed, thirteen-step set of instructions published in June 974 in the Ensign, an official church magazine. Ernest Eberhard (974:6–), then a mission president in Oregon, wrote a practical guide to enable church members to bring their faith to their neighbors and acquaintances in order to fulfill the goal that each member should help bring one new person into the LDS Church each year. The important thing about the instructions is that they are directed toward building close personal ties, and at many points Latter-day Saints are admonished to avoid or downplay discussion of religion. Although proselytizers of many denominations imagine they should stress theology in their initial appeals, social scientific observational studies show that interpersonal bonds must come first. From past experience, Mormons ratify this point. The article advised Latter-day Saints to work with a target family whose members express concerns about raising their children in a modern, urban environment or with one that has just moved into the neighborhood and lacks friendship ties. Members are urged to include non–Latter-day Saints in their friendship network and to cement the ties. The article suggests effective ways to invite the target family into one’s Mormon home and encourages one to find ways of going out together socially. Only in step five does religion enter the picture, and then it does so to defuse rather than ignite the subject. The member family lets casually drop the fact that they are LDS, perhaps by mentioning in passing their involvement

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in some church activity. This is not the time to bring up intense personal spiritual experiences or anything else that might trigger religious disagreement. With great discretion, in step six, the target family might be given a Mormon publication, perhaps one on a topic they would find personally interesting, but nothing controversial. The first chance to participate in a Mormon activity comes in step seven, when the target family is invited to the living room of their new LDS friends for a family home evening. Every Monday evening, active Mormon families gather at home to study a church lesson and to consider any family problems. For the neighbors, the LDS family sets up a special evening focused almost wholly on family problem solving; however, religion is secondary to the social relations. The emphasis during early recruitment is on the development of friendship and on showing how Mormonism can provide happy family life. The new family is invited to Mormon social activities, but not to religious services, until steps eight and nine. In step ten they are invited to attend Sunday services. Because the unique and more sacred ritual aspects of Mormonism occur only in temples, LDS Sunday services are quite informal and would not strike other Christians as particularly unusual. Only after these experiences with the social life of the LDS Church does the new family hear a profession of faith from LDS friends, and even then restraint is the rule. During step twelve it is suggested that the target person or family ought to investigate Mormonism more deeply. If this does not produce a response showing sufficient interest, the member is advised to keep the friendship alive and try again later. When interest is shown, the final step has been reached. It is now time to arrange for missionaries to teach the new family in the home of their Mormon friends. Nearly thirty years after this one article was published, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles reiterated many of these same themes in an Ensign essay, “The Role of Members in Conversion” (Oaks 2003:52–58). Adapted from his address to new mission presidents at the Provo Missionary Training Center in 2000, Elder Oaks repeated President David O. McKay’s charge “Every member a missionary!” and President Gordon B. Hinckley’s 999 call for Latter-day Saints to double the number of Mormon converts in the near future. Relying on studies conducted by the LDS Church’s Research Information Division, Elder Oaks shared that when church leaders examined the causes for nonmembers or “investigators” to listen to the first missionary discussion, they discovered that the missionaries’ own contacting, the church’s media campaigns, and members’ efforts (in this order) were the most productive. Only 0 percent of investigators were the result of member missionary work. However, Mormon researchers

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discovered that when they studied who actually joined the church, 59 percent of all converts began their study of Mormonism with the help of a Latter-day Saint friend. Although full-time missionaries generate the most teaching opportunities, member missionary work accounts for the most convert baptisms. Another LDS study reported that about  to 2 percent of investigators found through media campaigns are baptized; 2 to 3 percent of investigators found through missionaries’ efforts are baptized; and 20 to 30 percent of investigators found through members’ efforts are baptized. “In other words,” Elder Oaks observed, “an investigator who is brought to the missionaries through the members is 0 times more likely to be baptized than one the missionaries have found though their own contacting efforts.” Of course, the more than 60,000 full-time missionaries are responsible for much of Mormonism’s growth. To help members fulfill their missionary responsibilities, church leaders have developed a number of “simple, nonthreatening ways” to share the faith. The LDS Church’s newly developed “pass-along cards” are small cards that Mormons are encouraged to carry in their shirt pocket or purse, which they can pass along to friends and contacts. These cards offer free LDS materials, such as an introductory video or a copy of the Book of Mormon. The LDS Church’s informational Web site is emblazoned on the back of each card, providing easy access to information about Mormonism. Latter-day Saints are also encouraged to direct members of their social networks to their church’s Internet site for answers to some of the more common questions about Mormonism. The LDS Church’s many visitors’ centers and historic sites are also suggested as especially appropriate places to contact non–Latter-day Saints. “Our experience has shown that members can have a powerful influence in [the conversion] process in three critically important ways,” Elder Oaks wrote. Latter-day Saints can model “gospel living by providing practical, persuasive examples of the joy we receive from living the gospel,” teach “the gospel informally by explaining Latter-day Saint doctrines and practices, answering questions, and helping investigators and new members resolve concerns,” and help “investigators and converts become more fully integrated into the community of Saints.” He concluded his article by suggesting that Latter-day Saints could double convert baptisms by increasing their church’s media campaigns 3.5 times or multiply the efforts and effectiveness of full-time missionaries 6 times or by motivating members to increase their missionary efforts 2.7 times. In summary, when Mormon missionaries make cold calls, knocking on the doors of strangers, this leads to a conversion only rarely. Conversely,


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when missionaries make their first contact with a person in the home of a Mormon friend or of a relative of that person, conversion results nearly onethird of the time. In the most successful scenarios missionaries are offering religious instruction to persons whose network ties already have inclined them to join.

Conclusion Who is to say that it is more “rational” to convert on the basis of doctrinal appeal than to accept a doctrine, initially, because of the testimony of family and friends? Would I suggest that people would be more rational to put more faith in advertising than in the firsthand experiences of their family and friends when buying a car? Keep in mind, too, that I do not suggest that doctrine isn’t important. Doctrine matters a great deal when it comes to generating and sustaining commitment and thus, among other things, in retaining converts and reaffiliates. Here I have argued only that doctrine usually plays a secondary role when people initially make choices. Subsequently, doctrine often becomes a central aspect of commitment. It also should be recognized that although sometimes the process of conversion is quite rapid, as in the case of Parley Pratt, it is rarely sudden. Instead, people who have encountered a new religion through their friends or family usually resemble the Youngs in that they go through a gradual process of learning and listening and questioning before finally embracing a new faith. Moreover, people generally take an active role in this process. If we can assume the Mormons know what they are doing—and the fact that they are the most rapidly growing large religious movement in the United States (Goodstein 2002) suggests they surely do—then there seem to be compelling reasons for sociologists to accept that interpersonal bonds are the fundamental support for recruitment. This pattern is not peculiar to Latter-day Saints; it is how all successful movements spread. Note . Large public religious meetings such as those conducted by Billy Graham or by the Promise Keepers do not produce mass conversions (or any kind of conversion) and rarely produce even reaffiliation. They are no more spontaneous than the Super Bowl and are attended by people having relatively high levels of commitment who are seeking merely to “revive” or “renew” their commitment.

 4. Rationality and Mormon Sacrifice

Editor’s Introduction Mormonism has always demanded and received sacrifice from its followers. Early LDS leaders taught that “a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; . . . it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God.” They continued, “When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has for the truth’s sake, not even withholding his life, . . . he can obtain the faith necessary for him to lay hold on eternal life” (Lectures on Faith 6:58). In other words, they believed that sacrifice actually builds faith and commitment. In 996, over 50 years since Joseph Smith was martyred for his faith, Gordon B. Hinckley, fifteenth president of the Church of Jesus Christ, described Mormonism as “the most demanding religion in America” during a 60 Minutes interview. “It is demanding,” he asserted, “and that’s one of the things that attracts people to this church” (Hinckley 996). Two years later he was asked on Larry King Live to explain the spectacular growth and appeal of Mormonism. President Hinckley suggested the attraction was twofold. First, Latter-day Saints “stand solid and strong for something. . . . People are looking for something in this world of shifting values.” Second, LDS leaders “expect things of our people. We expect them to do things. We expect them to measure up to certain standards. It isn’t easy to be a member of this church. It’s demanding. But it’s wonderfully fruitful and has a tremendous effect upon people” (Hinckley 998a). Several months later he reiterated

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that LDS Church growth was linked to sacrifice. New converts “are put to work,” he explained. “They are given responsibility. They are made to feel a part of the great onward movement of this, the work of God. . . . They soon discover that much is expected of them as Latter-day Saints. They do not resent it. They measure up and they like it. They expect their religion to be demanding, to require great reformation in their lives” (Hinckley 998b:72). “Demanding” seems to be a fitting description of Mormonism—the United States’s fastest growing religion. Yet this seems counterintuitive. Shouldn’t demanding religions be less popular among rational people?

Rationality and Religion The notion that humans are essentially rational creatures underlies the mainstream of modern social science, except when religion is the object of study. When it comes to religion, many social scientists still cling to the doctrine, originated by the founders of their field, that because the “religious mind” is fundamentally irrational, “choice” plays little or no role in religious behavior. Again and again I have been told that people are unable to balance the costs of religious commitment against its benefits. Instead, to explain why Mormons, for example, are willing to tithe, I am directed to investigate how their childhood socialization leaves them virtually without choice in the matter. For more than three centuries, the standard social scientific wisdom was that religious behavior must be irrational precisely because people do make sacrifices on behalf of their faith—since, obviously, no rational person would do such a thing. I agree that no rational atheist would do so, but surely such behavior is entirely rational for anyone who believes that the gods reward those who sacrifice. However, given their certainty that no truly rational person would believe in religion, let alone willingly make religious sacrifices, social scientists committed to the old paradigm assume that socialization reduces most religious calculations to tautological “decisions” to choose what one has been trained to choose. And effective religious socialization, in turn, is attributed to ignorance, superstition, false consciousness, “brainwashing,” or primitive culture. Indeed, many social scientists—including some of the most famous founders of the field—have attributed sincere religious commitment to that most fundamental form of irrationality: psychopathology. The underlying issue comes down to this: Does it make sense to model religion as the behavior of rational, reasonably well-informed actors who choose to “consume” religious “commodities” in the same way that they

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weigh the costs and benefits of consuming secular commodities? I believe it does and have made it the starting point of my work. As I use it, the rationality assumption is an axiom in theories that produce empirical predictions. To construct a proper theory, one postulates or assumes the axioms and then logically deduces propositions, some of which have empirical implications. One tests the theory, and thereby the axioms, by testing empirical predictions deduced from the propositions (Hume [748] 962; Reichenbach 95; Popper 959, 962). As Peter Blau (970:202) has noted: The [deductive] theorist’s aim is to discover a few theoretical generalizations from which many different empirical propositions can be derived. Strange as it may seem, the higher-level [axioms] that explain the lowerlevel propositions are accepted as valid purely on the basis that they do explain them, in the specific sense that they logically imply them, and without independent empirical evidence; whereas acceptance of the lower-level propositions that need to be explained is contingent on empirical evidence.

Roger Finke and I have already presented a theory of religion based on the rationality assumption (Stark and Finke 2000). To the extent that we succeed, the case for religious behavior being as rational as are other forms of human behavior is demonstrated. Nevertheless, objections to approaching religion with an axiom postulating rational actors threaten to divert attention away from the results of using such an assumption. Hence, it is necessary to address the matter directly. I cannot, of course, inductively “prove” my rationality axiom (or any axiom), but I believe I have been able to assemble evidence that is sufficient to shift the burden of proof to those who would assert that religious behavior is fundamentally irrational or nonrational. To proceed, I briefly sketch the recent history of the doctrine that religion is rooted in irrational choice, contrasting it with the rationalist tradition, and showing how the latter dominates social scientific theorizing on matters not involving religion. Against this background, I turn to pertinent data, involving Latter-day Saints, a “costly” religion, to see if they regard their costs in a way incompatible with the rationality assumption. Next, I examine survey data on the value individuals place on money and time to see if members of strict (costly) religious bodies are distinguishable from others in this regard. Additional survey data are analyzed to see if there are grounds for claiming that when people are willing to pay high costs for their religion they do so because they think these are offset by substantial benefits.

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Religion as Irrational Choice From the beginning, social scientific studies of religion have been shaped by two questions: What makes them do it? And how could any rational person make sacrifices on behalf of unseen supernatural entities? The answer: When it comes to religion, apparently reasonable beings are unreasonable— religion is rooted in the irrational. Keep in mind that claims about the irrationality of religious sacrifices have not been limited to great sacrifices such as asceticism or martyrdom. At issue are such ordinary activities as prayer, observance of moral codes, and contributions of time and wealth. Whether it be the imputation of outright psychopathology, of groundless fears, or merely of faulty reasoning and misperceptions, the irrational assumption has dominated the field. The notion that normal, sophisticated people could be religious has been limited to a few social scientists willing to allow their own brand of very mild religiousness to pass the test of rationality—as in Gordon W. Allport’s concept of “intrinsic” religion. A variation of the proposition that religion is irrational is what might be best called the “ignorance and poor reasoning theory” of religious belief. This view has been especially popular among earlier social scientists with liberal religious views. Thus, in book after book, J. Paul Douglass (see, for example, Douglass and Brunner 935) identified the “emotional sects” as “a backwash of sectarianism” found only “in certain quarters,” especially “the more backward sections of the nation.” Edmund Brunner, Douglass’s colleague at the Institute of Social and Religious Research, described one evangelical congregation as “a poor class of mixed blood and of moronic intelligence” (927:75–76). And Warren Wilson, another member of the Institute, blamed the growth of evangelical Protestant groups in the rural United States on the fact that “among country people there are many inferior minds” (925:58). He further explained that revivalism was bound to persist in these regions “until we can lift the administration of popular institutions that are governed by public opinion out of the hand of the weak brother and the silly sister.” More typically, however, the ignorance and poor reasoning theory of religious belief is posed only in an implicit way, as the writer stresses the benefits of education in overcoming the illusions of faith. “The college experience, particularly at the better colleges, stimulates free inquiry, encourages the questioning of dogma, and undermines the force of tradition and authority, all of which combine to shake fundamentalistic religious belief,” according to David Caplovitz and Fred Sherrow (977:27). (In fairness, I should note here that early in my career I also advocated the view that education frees the mind of religious fetters [Stark 963].) In any event, despite this immense body of theory and the enormous weight of learned opinion

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that created and sustained it, the irrationalist position recently has fallen upon hard times, beset by contrary evidence.

The Rational Tradition Ironically, aside from the area of religion, rational models have always dominated social science. The notion that people weigh the anticipated rewards of a choice against its anticipated costs is fundamental to all mainstream social scientific traditions. In 776, Adam Smith made rational self-interest the basis of his Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, and economists have followed in his footsteps. Even sociology has been dominated by this assumption. George Homans and the exchange theorists have, of course, emphasized rationality, but a belief in human rationality also fully underlies the work of symbolic interactionists, structural functionalists, and Marxists. Furthermore, the rational actor axiom is only the starting point of theorizing. No one proposes settling for theories in which human behavior is the product of “pure reason,” unconstrained by norms and culture. I know perfectly well that whether one is a Hindu, Muslim, Jew, or Christian cannot be explained solely by reference to the fact that one is a rational actor. However, that is precisely why I begin my theorizing with an actor free of all such constraints: I wanted to explain how norms arise, how they constrain behavior, and how culture is discovered and accumulated (Stark and Bainbridge [987] 996). These matters can only be theorized about if one starts with an actor not already equipped in these regards—an actor in a vacuum (Coleman 990:3–32). I also must note that the nearly universal use of the rationality proposition by the social sciences is not really a matter of taste or preference but rather of utility. That is, it is possible to fashion far more powerful and parsimonious theories by using this proposition than by attempting to do without it. Indeed, even Steve Bruce concedes that “were social action not minimally rational, one would not be able to identify, comprehend, and explain it” (993:203). Exactly! Yet, it is precisely this image of people weighing their options vis-à-vis religious costs and benefits that has been scorned by generations of social scientists, including Bruce. Were they justified?

Religion as Psychopathology Despite frequent, confident claims that religiousness is rooted in psychopathology, the data have been uncooperative. In a study based on a sample of

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persons diagnosed as in need of immediate psychotherapy and a matched control sample of the population, I found that those diagnosed as mentally ill were far less likely to attend church or to score high on an index of religious orthodoxy. The published empirical research also did not support the claim that religious people are more prone to authoritarianism (Stark 97). Subsequently, in a survey of all published empirical studies on the subject, Allen Bergin (983) found that most reported a positive, rather than a negative, relationship between religiousness and mental health, and that the studies that did report a negative association between religion and mental health were tautological, having included religious items in their psychological measures. For example, five pro-religious items, each of which counted against a person’s ego strength, were included in the “Ego Strength Scale” proposed by Barron (953), which thus “discovered” that religious people had weak ego strength. Christopher G. Ellison (99) has assembled an imposing empirical literature that strongly supports the conclusion that religious belief and practice greatly improve self-esteem, life satisfaction, the ability to withstand major social stressors, and even physical health. Finally, Melvin Pollner (989) showed that prayer, especially to a god conceived of as “king,” “judge,” or “master,” has very powerful, positive effects on life satisfaction and on overall happiness, as well as on marital happiness. Let’s see how all this relates to Mormonism.

The Phenomenology of Sacrifice: Mormon Fertility For more than a century, LDS leaders have extolled childbearing, and Mormon fertility in the United States and Canada is higher than that of non-Mormons (Bush 976). What sort of model best explains Mormons’ response to their leaders admonitions to be fruitful and multiply? Two nonrational explanations spring to mind: first, that Mormon socialization dramatically alters members’ perceptions of costs and benefits, so that child rearing is no longer perceived as a sacrifice, and second, that socialization and group sanctions overshadow calculations of costs and benefits, thereby also eliminating the element of “choice” from the fertility decision. Alternatively, higher average fertility might be modeled as a purely rational response to a new source of benefits—approval, status, and blessings that the Church of Jesus Christ offers in return for large family size. The difference here is not merely semantic. Explanation in terms of socialization and group sanctions invites condemnation of the (manipulative) church and of its (coerced or indoctrinated) members. Much more important, however, the explanations predict different behavior.

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If LDS fertility were nonrational, it would be generally unresponsive to the standard economic predictors of fertility, such as income. If Latter-day Saints regarded children as an unmixed blessing, a gift from God to be joyfully welcomed, they would not use birth control, accepting the number that God sends, and the influence of income would be minimal. But if they act rationally vis-à-vis fertility, maximizing their utility over a typical set of preferences and subject to all the standard costs and benefits plus a churchsupplied “bonus” for fertility, then I would predict that: () LDS couples will have more children than their non-Mormon counterparts, but (2) they will not maximize family size (and will use birth control); (3) socioeconomic pressures will affect LDS family size; and (4), over time, changes in LDS fertility trends will parallel changes in national fertility. At first glance, the rational model might seem wrong on the face of it. As Lester Bush documented in his historical review of church teachings, “the Mormon leadership has not condoned economic limitations, educational obligations, or ‘arbitrary’ restrictions of family size as acceptable reasons for the use of any form of birth control” (Bush 976:3). But actual behavior, including the behavior of the most devout members and of church leaders, has proved “unmistakably responsive to the pressures that have influenced national fertility” (Bush 976:33). The vast majority of LDS couples in the United States do practice birth control (it is not prohibited by church doctrine), thereby averaging about three children per family—more than nonMormons, but far below their potential maximum. However, unlike their non-Mormon counterparts, higher-income Mormon families average more children. Mormons thus treat children as a “normal” good, and they are demanded in greater numbers by those households that can better afford them, so that Mormon professionals average significantly larger families than do Mormon laborers (Thornton 979; Heaton 986a, 986b). Finally, consider the history of U.S. fertility trends. For nearly a century Mormon fertility in the United States has moved in tandem with non-Mormon fertility. Both Mormon and non-Mormon fertility dropped throughout the 920s and the Great Depression, rose rapidly during the Baby Boom, and subsequently resumed a long-run decline. The difference, of course, is that Mormon families have averaged about one to two children more than non-Mormon families, and Mormon leaders have averaged still more (Bush 976:23). The Mormon “preference” for larger than average families has therefore remained constant, but the actual size of Mormon families has risen and fallen in response to general social trends. Mormon fertility thus provides an excellent illustration of what I mean by “rational religious behavior.” On the one hand, religion does make a difference: the Church of Jesus Christ has managed to maintain an effective

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system of social and psychological rewards for large family size, thereby increasing member fertility. This is no small achievement—indeed, it is one of the most striking behavioral outcomes achieved by any American religion. Even so, on the other hand, the fertility of LDS couples functioning within this system is best explained as cost/benefit analysis, responsive to all the standard, secular costs and benefits and “deviant” only insofar as additional church-supplied benefits enter into the calculations.

Generating Religious Resources Commitment is energy. Moreover, members of higher-tension churches do not expend all this energy doing directly religious things. After the worship service is over, after the prayers are said, there is a lot of time and energy remaining for more mundane, but organizationally vital, activities. For example, Mormons are asked not only to tithe in terms of financial support but to tithe in terms of their time. Indeed, James T. Duke (997) reports that for each of the local congregations (wards) there are between 50 and 250 positions that are considered “callings” by the church. These callings are not merely “requests to help out” from the local bishop, they are considered callings from God. Using conservative estimates, Duke calculated that the average congregation receives 400 to 600 hours of voluntary labor per week, or the equivalent of ten to fifteen full-time employees. The result is such a huge and talented labor force that all functions necessary for operating the local ward are performed by unpaid volunteers—including the role of bishop (pastor), which typically requires from twenty to forty hours per week. And after all the clerical, janitorial, and other maintenance jobs are done, there still is a huge supply of labor remaining, which Mormons deploy to perform social services for one another. Volunteers paint and repair the homes of the elderly and disabled. Volunteers provide child care. Volunteers transport people to church, to medical and dental appointments, and to the supermarket. Indeed, Mormon charity and volunteer social services provide for members who otherwise would go on the welfare roles. Similar patterns exist in all the higher-tension religious groups. Indeed, a recent study based on the United States and Canada found that hightension groups with only a relatively small share of each nation’s church members had huge shares of available human and capital resources (Iannaccone, Olson, and Stark 995). Not surprisingly, these resources translate into growth. Furthermore, strictness makes religious groups strong by screening out free riders and thereby increasing the average level of commitment in the group. This, in turn, greatly increases the credibility of the religious cul-

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ture (especially promises concerning future benefits, since credibility is the result of high levels of consensus) as well as generates a high degree of resource mobilization. Free-rider problems are the Achilles’ heel of collective activities. Other things being equal, people will not contribute to a collective enterprise when they can fully share in the benefits without contributing. This is called freeriding, and the collective consequence of free-riding is that insufficient collective goods are created because too few members contribute. Everyone suffers, but those who give the most generously suffer the most. Because religion involves collective action, and all collective action is potentially subject to exploitation by free riders, religious groups must confront free-riding. One need not look far to find examples of anemic congregations plagued by free-rider problems—a visit to the nearest liberal Protestant church will usually suffice to discover “members” who draw upon the group for weddings, funerals, holiday celebrations, day care, and even counseling, but who provide little or nothing in return. Even if they do make substantial financial contributions, they weaken the group’s ability to create collective religious goods because their inactivity devalues the religious capital and reduces the average level of commitment. However, strictness in the form of costly demands offers a solution to this problem. At first glance, it would seem that costly demands must always make a religion less attractive. And, indeed, the economists’ law of demand predicts just that, other things remaining equal. But it turns out that other things do not remain equal when religions impose these kinds of costs on their members. To the contrary, costly demands strengthen a religious group in two ways. First, they create a barrier to group entry. No longer is it possible merely to drop in and reap the benefits of membership. To take part at all you must qualify by accepting the sacrifices demanded from everyone. Thus, high costs tend to screen out free riders—those potential members whose commitment and participation would otherwise be low. Such costs act as nonrefundable “registration fees” that, as in secular markets, measure seriousness of interest in the product. Only those willing to pay the price qualify. Second, high costs tend to increase participation among those who do join by increasing the rewards derived from participation. It may seem paradoxical that when the cost of membership increases the net gains of membership increase as well. But this is necessarily the case with collectively produced goods. For example, an individual’s positive experience of a worship service increases to the degree that the church is full, the members participate enthusiastically (everyone joins in the songs and prayers), and others express very positive evaluations of what is taking place. Thus, as each member pays the costs of membership, each gains from higher levels of production of collective goods.

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Perceived Cost/Benefit Ratios Not surprisingly, people will only accept high religious costs if these result in such high levels of religious benefits that the result is a favorable exchange ratio (Stark and Finke 2000). That is, people attend not only to cost but to value in making their decisions. Table 4. offers preliminary support for this position. Clearly, from table 4., we see that members of some denominations are far more likely to give generously than are others. Only 2 percent of Catholics and 3 percent of liberal Protestants contributed more than 2,000 to their church during the year. However, 4 percent of conservative Protestant members and 48 percent of Mormons gave that much. Keep in mind that members of the high-contribution groups tend to have lower incomes than do members of the liberal Protestant bodies. Now, look at the table’s second column, which shows how members of each group graded their church, using the scale A through F. Here we see that church members are fairly tough graders. Based on a standard grade point average (A = 4.0), Catholics and liberal Protestants ranked their churches at just over a C (2.3). Conservative Protestants gave their denominations a B (3.), whereas Mormons graded their church very highly at 3.8. The correlation between level of giving and GPA is very high. Moreover, this correlation holds within these groups—there are dissatisfied conservative Protestants, for example, and they give less.

table 4. The Contributions and Satisfaction of Church Membership percentage who contributed 2,000 or more to their church in the past year

gpaa of the religious group graded by members

roman catholics (n=386)



liberal protestants (n=372)



conservative protestants (n=338)



latter-day saints (n=30)



Source: Calculated from General Social Survey, 989. a Grade point average: 4.0 is the highest possible grade; 0 is the lowest.

rationality and mormon sacrifice


These findings are entirely consistent with my claim that members of strict churches give more because they receive more, even though the findings seem inconsistent with the claim that religious people do not consider their church contributions to be costs. It might be argued, of course, that religious “fundamentalists” grade their denominations highly out of fanatical loyalty. But why are only some of them like this? Substantial numbers of their co-religionists gave the groups lower grades. Moreover, what made Catholics and liberal Protestants give their churches low grades? Can we make any headway in answering such questions if we reject the reasonable person axiom?

Conclusion For much of its existence, the social scientific study of religion has been nothing of the sort. Despite the immense antagonism it expresses toward “faith,” the truth is that the discipline, until recently, has not been pursued as a science but has rested almost entirely on faith. To be sure, this faith consists of secular doctrines, but it is faith in the sense that its fundamental premises are of the type ridiculed by Michael Scriven as “a belief which goes beyond the evidence . . . [or] belief in something which is contrary to wellestablished laws” (quoted in Plantinga 993:36). Claims about the makeup and functioning of the religious mind go far beyond the evidence—indeed, they are contrary to a very formidable body of evidence. Moreover, claims about the fundamental irrationality of religion, and therefore of the religious mind, are clearly “contrary to well-established laws.” That is, religious behavior is the only area in the social sciences where the rational actor axiom has been excluded—and without it, all major theories of economics, sociology, political science, and experimental psychology are nullified. Why this exception? Because, religion is not regarded as something to explain in the same way that one might attempt to explain fertility, suicide, crime, or inequality. Rather, religion is seen as the enemy. Jeffrey Hadden (987:590) has noted: The founding generation of sociologists were hardly value-free armchair scholars, sitting back and objectively analyzing [religion]. They believed passionately that science was ushering in a new era which would crush the superstitions and oppressive structures which the Church had promoted for so many centuries. Indeed, they were all essentially in agreement that traditional forms of religion would soon be a thing of the past.

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From this atheism and antagonism came the once-dominant social scientific view that religion is false, and unique theoretical principles had therefore to be invoked to explain it, inasmuch as no rational actor, in a modern situation, could accept false beliefs lacking scientific verification. That this claim was itself a belief lacking scientific verification has been ignored. Moreover, social scientists have been content to cite the relative lack of religiousness among themselves as proof that faith cannot survive scientific enlightenment (a point noted by Greeley [988]) while ignoring the persistence of religion among those involved in the more mature sciences. One need not be a religious person to grasp the underlying rationality of religious behavior any more than one need be a criminal to impute rationality to many deviant acts (as the leading theories of crime and deviance do). In saying this, I do not suppose that religious behavior is the rational choice for every actor—irreligiousness or at least religious indifference is rather common because this is not so—nor do I propose that any religious behavior justifies its cost. What I am saying is that religious behavior—to the degree that it occurs—is generally based on cost/benefit calculations and is therefore rational behavior in precisely the same sense that other human behavior is rational. From this perspective, the full theoretical resources of social science can be utilized to understand religion, including especially demanding faiths like Mormonism.

 5. Modernization, Secularization, and Mormon Growth

When I published my set of Mormon growth projections (984a) I encountered a lot of resistance from some social scientists. They repeatedly offered me sage counsel about the perils of straight-line projections. Therefore, in this chapter I assess more fully the arguments raised by colleagues who think that LDS growth is bound to slow dramatically very soon due to modernization and secularization, and that a world abounding in Latter-day Saints will thereby be averted.

Secularization R.I.P. For nearly three centuries, assorted Western intellectuals, including sociologists, have been promising the end of religion. Each generation has been confident that within another few decades, or possibly a bit longer, humans will “outgrow” belief in the supernatural. This proposition became known as the secularization thesis, and its earliest proponents seem to have been British (Durant and Durant 965). It was likely the English divine and freethinker Thomas Woolston who first set a date for the triumph of modernity over faith. Writing in about 70, he expressed his confidence that Christianity would be gone by 900 (Woolston 733). Half a century later, Frederick the Great thought this was much too pessimistic, writing to his friend Voltaire that “the Englishman Woolston . . . could not calculate what has happened quite recently. . . . It [religion] is crumbling of itself, and its fall will be but the more rapid” (as quoted in Redman 949:26). In response, Voltaire ventured that the end of religion would come within fifty years.

96 modernization, secularization, and mormon growth

Widespread press reports about the second “Great Awakening” did nothing to deter Thomas Jefferson from predicting in 822 that “there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian” (Healy 984:373). Of course, a generation later, Unitarians were as scarce as ever, while the Methodists and Baptists continued their spectacular rate of growth (Finke and Stark 992). Subsequent prophets of secularization have been no less certain, but they have been somewhat more circumspect as to dates. In France, Auguste Comte announced that, as a result of modernization, human society was outgrowing the “theological stage” of social evolution and a new age was dawning in which the science of sociology would replace religion as the basis for moral judgments. But Comte did not say exactly when all this would be accomplished. In similar fashion, as often as Frederich Engels gloated about how the socialist revolution would cause religion to evaporate, he would only say that it would happen “soon.” “Every day, every week, every month, every quarter, the most widely read journals seem just now to vie with each other in telling us that the time for religion is past, that faith is a hallucination or an infantile disease, that the gods have at last been found out and exploded,” Max Müller complained in his 878 Hibbert lectures (878:28). “The opinion is everywhere gaining ground that religion is a mere survival from a primitive . . . age, and its extinction only a matter of time,” A. E. Crawley noted early in the twentieth century (905:8). But a few years later, when Max Weber explained why modernization would cause the “disenchantment” of the world, and when Sigmund Freud reassured his disciples that religion, this greatest of all neurotic illusions, would die upon the therapist’s couch, they, too, were no more specific than “soon.” More recently, however, “soon” became “under way” or “ongoing.” For example, the distinguished anthropologist Anthony Wallace explained to tens of thousands of U.S. undergraduates that “the evolutionary future of religion is extinction.” Although he admitted that it might require “several hundred years” to complete the process, he claimed that it already was well underway in the advanced nations (Wallace 966:264–65). Bryan Wilson, too, has throughout his illustrious career described secularization as “a long-term process occurring in human society,” saying that “the process implicit in the concept of secularization concedes at once the idea of an earlier condition of social life that was not secular, or that was at least much less secular than that of our own times” (Wilson 982:50–5). In contrast to all this intellectual pussyfooting around, Peter Berger told the New York Times in 968 that by “the 2st century, religious believers are likely to be found only in small sects, huddled together to resist a worldwide

modernization, secularization, and mormon growth


secular culture” (Berger 968:3). But in 997, when his prediction had only three years left to run, he recanted his belief in secularization. Notice five things about all these secularization prophecies. First, there was universal agreement that modernization was the causal engine dragging the gods into retirement. That is, the secularization doctrine has always nestled within the broader theoretical framework of modernization theories, it being proposed that as industrialization, urbanization, and rationalization increase, religiousness must decrease (Hadden 987; Finke 992). Second, secularization prophecies are not directed primarily toward institutional differentiation—they do not merely predict the separation of church and state or a decline in the direct, secular authority of church leaders. Their primary concern is with individual piety, especially belief. It was not bishops but the religious “fantasies” of the masses that most concerned Engels. Freud wrote about religious illusions, not about church taxes, and Wallace asserted that “belief in supernatural powers is doomed to die out, all over the world” (966:265), because, as Bryan Wilson explained, “the rational structure of society itself precludes much indulgence in supernaturalist thinking” (975b:8). Third, implicit in all and explicit in most versions of the secularization thesis is the claim that of all aspects of modernization it is science that has the most deadly implications for religion. For Comte and Wallace, as for Voye and Dobbelaere, it is science that will free us from the superstitious fetters of faith. Or, in the odd formulation by Bryan Wilson, “Christianity, with the impact of scientific and social scientific hindsights, has lost general theological plausibility” (968:86). But scientists are about as religious as anyone else, and the presumed incompatibility of religion and science seems mythical. Fourth, secularization is regarded as an absorbing state, which once achieved is irreversible, instilling mystical immunity. However, events and trends in Eastern Europe and the nations of the former Soviet Union do not support these expectations. Instead, as Andrew Greeley so aptly put it, after more than seventy years of militant efforts by the state to achieve secularization, “St. Vladimir has routed Karl Marx” (Greeley 994:272). Fifth, and finally, while most discussions of secularization focus on Christendom, all leading proponents of the thesis apply it globally. Thus, it is not merely belief in Christ that is “doomed to die out” but, as Wallace explained in the passage quoted above, “belief in supernatural powers,” and this is going to happen “all over the world.” Hence, Allah is fated to join Jehovah as only “an interesting historical memory.” Looking back, the fact that “everyone knew” that secularization owned the future and that an age of reason was just around the corner should have been adequate reason for caution—especially since “everyone” was too eager

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for the predicted change to take place. In fact, the secularization thesis is at best a partial truth resting on biased assumptions. By now it must be evident to all but the most devoted ideologues that the thunderous religious activities taking place around the world are not dying spasms but are the lusty choruses of revival and the uproar caused by the outbreak of new faiths. It might be worthwhile one day to examine why it was that intellectuals (myself included) could so blind themselves to the self-evident durability of religion and its continuing importance for human culture—no matter how modernized. Yet, as Mary Douglas (982) has noted, recent religious trends took even scholars of religion by surprise. Surely they at least should have been sensitive to the unique capacities of religions to answer the most fundamental questions of human meaning. As I have stressed at length elsewhere (Stark and Bainbridge 980a, 985), to deny that the universe has purpose is not the same thing as giving an answer to the question “what is the meaning of the universe?” It will be evident that only by assuming the existence of the supernatural is it possible to say that the universe does have a purpose. Hence, so long as people persist in wanting certain kinds of answers (or certain kinds of rewards such as life beyond death), religion almost must persist. My purpose here is not to rehash arguments about the fundamental functions of faith. Instead, I want to isolate the important partial truth contained in the secularization thesis and to embed it in a more comprehensive and adequate theoretical model. More than that, I propose to test empirical implications of this model by examining the impact of modernization on conventional religion in Latin America and Europe and then show how this, in turn, creates the conditions under which new faiths find favorable market opportunities. In this connection I shall examine the basis for the extraordinary success of Mormonism in Latin America. Then I will replicate the test, and find similar results, by analyzing LDS membership in Western Europe.

Secularization, Revival, and Innovation I have proposed a model of religious economies within which three key processes constantly interact (Stark 985; Stark and Bainbridge 980a, 98, 985; Bainbridge and Stark 982). My model first raises the scope of conventional church-sect theory from the level of religious organizations to the level of whole societies. In so doing it equates the process by which sects are transformed into churches and thus made more worldly with the process of secularization at the societal level. In this way secularization becomes a universal feature of religious economies. That is, if sect transformation is a universal, then when viewed from the perspective of a whole society it

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ought to be the case that the dominant religious organizations always are moving toward a state of ever-lower tension with their sociocultural environment (Niebuhr 929; Stark and Bainbridge 979). Sometimes this process is rapid, as it seems to have been in the West during the past several centuries. In addition, societies will differ on their overall level of secularization—sometimes the dominant religious organizations will not yet have moved into very low levels of tension, at other times secularization will be very advanced. Just as church-sect theory tells us to expect sect formation to take place when a given religious body has become too church-like, so, too, it leads to the prediction at the societal level that secularization will be a self-limiting process that will produce revivals—the appearance of new organizations offering a higher-tension version of the conventional faith: sects. Applied to the United States of the late eighteenth century, this linking of secularization and revival would suggest that the movement of the Congregationalists and Episcopalians toward ever-greater worldliness would not usher in a golden age of Unitarianism soon followed by a triumph of humanism but would instead prompt the explosive growth of the Methodists and Baptists, which is what actually took place. Indeed, as I examine the sweep of history within my competence I find it best described by a model of alternating periods of secularization and revival—except once every few centuries when something really new does occur. Secularization doesn’t always stimulate only an outbreak of sects aiming to restore otherworldliness in the conventional religious tradition. Rather, at periodic moments of extreme secularization, an opportunity exists for new religions successfully to break into the market. Put another way, only once in a while are the conventional religious organizations so weakened that they cannot easily withstand newcomers. From this viewpoint, the rise of Christianity was possible only because of the urgent failures of classical paganism and of the Judaism of the Diaspora to meet the needs of substantial segments of the religious market—for only when the entrenched competition is feeble can new faiths make serious headway. Elsewhere, Bainbridge and I (979, 985) have conceptualized new religions as cult movements to indicate their deviant position because, unlike sects, they do not embrace the conventional religious tradition. Cult movements can appear in societies in two ways. Often they arrive by diffusion from another society, such as how Buddhism came to China and Japan from India and how Christianity spread across Europe, or how Islam swept across North Africa and into Asia. It also happens that religions that are entirely new everywhere appear—someone has or discovers a new religious insight and successfully recruits followers.

00 modernization, secularization, and mormon growth

New religions are extremely common. When and where the existing religious organizations leave even small groups of people ill-served, new faiths seize the opportunity. But for all the thousands of new faiths that spring up, only once in a great while does one achieve significant success. This is because only rarely does the sect-formation process break down so completely that the conventional religious bodies cannot withstand vigorous competition, thus permitting a shift in religious traditions. However, as already suggested, the twentieth century seems to be one of these rare times when new religions can succeed. In this chapter I plan to examine current trends in the LDS movement that, during the next century, may well lead to a new world faith.

Modernization and Secularization This is not the place to try to analyze in any depth why and how moments of opportunity arise during which advanced secularization can facilitate major religious changes. What matters here is to note that, whatever else is involved, modernization does in fact seem to have stimulated a period of very rapid and extreme secularization. This is the partial truth buried in the conventional secularization thesis I referred to above. Modernization really has been causing major religious dislocations, often wreaking havoc on the dominant religious organizations in rapidly changing societies. Although here I shall not pursue a discussion of why and how modernization has had this effect, I agree with the general outlines of the argument as proposed and ratified by a long line of scholars, including Max Weber. Where I depart from this tradition is in its mistaking the decline of specific religious organizations for the final fall of religion in general. In making this error, modern commentators have, in my judgment, simply reenacted the failure of Roman and Greek intellectuals to understand the religious changes that ushered in the Christian Era. Intellectuals in classical times noted the fatal wounds inflicted on paganism by the rapid modernization taking place in their day. But, like modern intellectuals, they, too, mistook changes in the sources of religion for the demise of religion per se and thereby missed noting one of the most profound cultural shifts in Western history. In any event, I wish to demonstrate something widely taken for granted but hardly demonstrated: that modernization does have religious consequences. Indeed, I plan to test all major parts of the model outlined above. Specifically, I should like to examine and test the following propositions derived from my model.

modernization, secularization, and mormon growth


. The more modernized a society, the more secularized—the weaker and more worldly—are the conventional religious organizations of that society. 2. The less secularized the society, the greater the success of sect movements—schismatic, higher-tension organizations sustaining the conventional religious tradition. 3. The more secularized the society, the greater the success of new religions—of cult movements that represent an unconventional religious tradition.

Mormon Success Mormonism offers the most appropriate opportunity for testing my model of how secularization is self-limiting as it generates new faiths to replace the old. Unlike the thousands of other new religious movements that seem doomed to oblivion, Mormonism appears on the brink of a real breakthrough. During their rise to world prominence, the Latter-day Saints ought to be more successful in some places than in others, according to my model of religious economies. They will likely achieve their greatest successes in those areas where the conventional Christian denominations have been most weakened by secularization: they will flourish in the most modernized areas. Anyone who has studied converts to religious movements has found that converts come overwhelmingly from irreligious or only nominally religious backgrounds (Stark and Bainbridge 985). Indeed, the most unstable religious background among Americans is “none.” That is, the great majority of Americans who report that when they were growing up their family had no religious preference currently are affiliated with a faith (Kluegel 980). For example, in the United States the place to make converts is not in states with the highest church membership rates but in the Far West, where the majority of the population does not belong to a church (Stark and Bainbridge 985). The same is true in Canada. LDS missionaries do far better in western Canada, where a proportionally high number of people responded on their census forms that they had no religious affiliation, than they do in the eastern provinces, where few had no religious affiliation (see table 5.). As for a direct confrontation of Mormonism and modernity in Canada, table 5. shows that there are huge positive correlations between LDS membership rates and median family income, the percentage of the population with more than nine years of education, per capita alcohol consumption, abortion rates, Playboy magazine circulation, and arrest rates for cocaine possession and for indecent exposure. Keep in mind that I harbor no suspicions that it is local Latter-day Saints who are the source of all this modern behavior. But I do suggest that wise LDS mission presidents in Canada will not send their

02 modernization, secularization, and mormon growth table 5. Modernity in Canadian Provinces and LDS Membership measures of modernity

correlation with lds membership

percent “none” for religious preference on census form


median family income


percent nine or more years of education


per capita alcohol consumption


abortion rate


playboy circulation rate


cocaine arrest rate


indecent exposure arrest rate


Source: Data are from Canada ShowCase, distributed by MicroCase Corporation. Note: N =  provinces. Alberta was omitted as a highly deviant case that distorted the findings. Its very high LDS membership rate is more a function of migration than of conversion.

volunteers off to knock on convent doors in Quebec but will mass them in the unchurched boomtowns of western Canada. Indeed, my model proposes that modernization causes the secularization of conventional faiths and that this in turn leads not to a secular society but to the rise of new religious institutions better adapted to the new social and cultural situation. This is not the conclusion to be drawn from the conventional secularization thesis, which proposes that modernization erodes traditional religious institutions and renders populations immune to faith. That is, all religious organizations—church, sect, and cult—should face similar fates vis-à-vis modernization. Hence, all should cluster where modernization has had (so far) the least impact while all should be fading from view in the most modernized societies. What we have before us, then, is a reasonable instance of a critical test wherein two competing theses yield contrary predictions.

Using Nations as Units of Analysis Now I shall test propositions about modernization, secularization, and Mormonism using seventeen nations of Latin America and thirteen nations of Western Europe as the units of analysis (Stark 990). My selections and strategies of analysis were based on many criteria that need to be discussed.

modernization, secularization, and mormon growth


Since I have chosen to focus on LDS membership rates, I must restrict the study to places where Latter-day Saints have made at least a minimum effort to proselyte. That restriction eliminates the nations of Islam and various communist nations of Asia. However, I am unwilling to base a study on all of the remaining nations, lumping Europe, Latin America, and various parts of Asia together. I have found that research based on nations is tricky enough without the issue of extreme cultural heterogeneity. It is a sufficient challenge to confront a vast array of extraneous differences across cases without asking for trouble by mixing nations from different continents and cultural spheres. Instead, I will limit the analysis to sets of nations in proximity with relatively comparable cultures and shared history. While these restrictions lead to a study based on relatively fewer cases, they also keep the results from being an uninterpretable mess. In what follows I shall report high positive correlations between various measures of modernization and the rates of LDS membership, first using the Latin American data and then using the European data. Had I lumped the two continents together and created a single data set, I would have found that Mormonism tends to do better in less modernized nations—a complete reversal of the real effect. This is because the data would not really have been reflecting modernization effects at all but would merely be telling us that Europe is more modernized than Latin America and that LDS membership is higher in the latter.

LDS Growth in Latin America As I set about an analysis of Latin American nations it became clear that some ought not to be included in the study. Thus, for example, many of the islands are inappropriate: Cuba because LDS missionaries are not permitted there, Puerto Rico because it is not a nation, Haiti because it lacks Latin culture, and so on. So I simply excluded them all, limiting the sample to nations of continental Central and South America. Still, four nations stuck out as deviant. Belize, once known as British Honduras, is an English-speaking nation, the majority of whose citizens are black and are not Catholic. In similar fashion, French Guiana lacks a Latin culture as does Guyana, where a quarter of the population is Hindu and another quarter Anglican while only 8 percent are Catholic. Finally, Dutch-speaking Suriname has as many Hindus as Catholics and does not belong in a set of nations selected for a common Catholic, Latin culture and history. So I excluded these nations too. In the end, I based my Latin American part of the study on seventeen nations. Admittedly this is a small N, but given the size of the correlations

04 modernization, secularization, and mormon growth

to be assessed it proves sufficient. Keep in mind that this is not a sample of anything and therefore tests of significance are without meaning. That is, whatever correlations I report are not statistics but are the actual population parameters, so the question of random fluctuation via sampling cannot arise. As a result I do not show significance levels for the correlations. Let me reassure the faint of heart that all correlations I treat as substantively significant also produce high, if meaningless, levels of statistical significance (.05 or higher, and usually .0 and higher). In this chapter I report findings via Pearson’s product-moment correlations. But I also have replicated all correlations with various nonparametric measures. In addition, I have checked scatter plots of each correlation to guard against results produced by an extreme case. The European data set was easily defined. Adequate data were available for thirteen nations. All the remarks directed toward the Latin American data above apply here too. As will be evident, the results are so robust that many possible concerns become irrelevant. The best measure of secularization available for Latin America is the proportion of the population that is unaffiliated with a religious organization. These are the people who, when asked their religion, respond “none.” As it happens, recent data on religious affiliation, based on good nationwide surveys or on censuses, are available for twelve of the seventeen nations. For the other five, David Barrett (982) was able to assemble adequate bases for estimating the size of the secularized population. In a prior study (Bainbridge and Stark 982), similar rates derived from the Canadian census proved to be extremely sensitive barometers of church attendance. Thus, the irreligious population is simply the most visible tip of the phenomenon of secularization within societies and an accurate basis for comparisons across real units.

Modernization and Secularization in Latin America Students of modernization have utilized a number of different measures of that phenomenon. But the most powerful of these (from among those available for Latin America) are the percentage of the labor force employed in agriculture (the more modernized a nation’s agriculture, the smaller the farm labor force), the proportion of the population living in urban areas, and per capita income. Table 5.2 uses these measures to test the hypothesis that modernization does erode traditional religious institutions, causing an increase in the irreligious population. The data very strongly support the widespread view among social scientists that modernization and secularization are linked—although, to the best of my knowledge, this is the first quantitative test of the hypothesis

modernization, secularization, and mormon growth


table 5.2 Correlations (r) in Latin America modernization and secularization secularization rate percent employed in agriculture


percent urban


per capita income

.43 revival and secularization

protestant sect membership rate


protestant membership rate


modernization and revival protestant rate

sect rate percent employed in agriculture



percent urban



per capita income



secularization, modernization, and lds success lds membership rate secularization rate percent employed in agriculture

.75 -.36

percent urban


per capita income


based on cross-national comparisons. The measures produce robust, nearly identical correlations between modernization and secularization.

Secularization and Revival The second proposition derived from the model of religious economies is subtle. It predicts that in highly secularized societies, sect movements will be weak. Indeed, what I am arguing is that a breakdown in the church-sect cycle is what causes societies to advance into a condition of extreme secularization. That is, sects function to revive the conventional religious tradition, to replace too-worldly organizations with new ones not so worldly. Thus, where sects are thriving, secularization will be minimized. The second level of table 5.2 shows that to be the case in Latin America. Evangelical Protestant

06 modernization, secularization, and mormon growth

sects have achieved their highest membership rates in the least secularized nations. Indeed, in so overwhelmingly a Catholic milieu as Latin America, nearly all brands of Protestantism are more sect-like than church-like. And this is reflected in the fact that the overall rates of Protestant membership also are highest in nations that are least secularized. The third level of table 5.2 shows that sects do best in the least modernized nations of Latin America, thus completing the mirror-image contrast between secularization and revival. The fourth level of table 5.2 tests the third hypothesis: that where secularization is most advanced new religions will enjoy their greatest success. This is, of course, the crucial basis of dispute between my theoretical model and the traditional secularization thesis. I dispute the claim that modernization is leading us to an age of no religion. I claim, instead, that it will, at most, lead us into an age of new religion. The high positive correlation (.75) between the secularization rate and the Mormon membership rate is, in my judgement, strong evidence in support of my model. The Latter-day Saints are not recruiting best in the backwaters where magic, mystery, and piety persist, to paraphrase Anthony Wallace’s (966) famous assertion of the triumphant march of secularization. The Mormons do best, instead, where secularization is greatest. And, not surprisingly, that means they are strongest in the most, not the least, modernized nations of Latin America.

Assessing Path Models My theoretical model of secularization is not limited to predicting bivariate correlations. Instead, it clearly specifies how modernization, secularization, and LDS success rates interact. Specifically, I postulate that modernization spurs secularization, and it, in turn, creates the market for LDS growth. What this means is that the relationship between modernization and Mormon success ought to vanish when secularization is controlled. This is a classic instance of what Paul Lazarsfeld liked to call “interpretation.” When a third variable is the link between two other variables (the mechanism by which one influences the other), this can be demonstrated by holding the linking variable constant and finding that the original correlation between the other two disappears. To test this prediction, a path model is very useful since the time order among the variables is fully specified in such a model. Because I have utilized three measures of modernization, it is appropriate to examine three separate path models. These are shown in figure 5.. The models fully conform to the theoretical predictions and explain a large part of the total variance in LDS

figure 5. Path Models Based on Latin America

08 modernization, secularization, and mormon growth

success. In each of the three models the whole impact of modernization on Mormonism is channeled through secularization. Frankly, these results far exceed what even an optimistic theorist could have hoped for. Still, believers in the secularization thesis point out that although Mormon membership may be increasing rapidly in Latin America, this really is not significant because the absolute number of Latter-day Saints is small. It is certainly true that Mormonism is not yet a major faith in any part of Latin America—at the end of 990 there were only 2,229,000 Latter-day Saints between the Rio Grande and the Strait of Magellan (Ludlow 992). But by 2002 that figure had increased to 3,24,894. The thing to remember about such high growth rates is how little time it takes for a group to become large. Unless its growth rates fall very far and very soon, Mormonism will be a significant religious presence in Latin America. Since 980, LDS growth in Latin America has skyrocketed, and a primary concern of LDS mission presidents has been to slow down growth so as to assimilate new members rather than to stimulate rates of conversion. If modernization lies ahead for all Latin America, then so much the better for the future of Mormonism.

LDS Growth in Europe: A Replication Many critics of my earliest publications testing the link between secularization and the rise of new religions pointed to Europe as the devastating exception. For there, I was told by Roy Wallis and others, the churches stand empty and no new faiths are stirring. Indeed, it is in the United States where conventional faith still runs high that new religious movements also abound. As it turned out, however, new religions are much more plentiful and successful in the most secularized nations of Western Europe—in Britain and in Scandinavia—than in the United States. It is simply that European intellectuals have ignored them, while Americans have paid attention to local religious novelty. In the publications reporting these results for Europe (Stark 985; Stark and Bainbridge 985) I did not attempt to test the full model, giving no attention to modernization. Moreover, since completing those essays I have obtained more adequate data on church attendance. In what follows, secularization is measured by the lack of weekly church attendance (Sigelman 977; Barrett 982). That is, the secularization rate is simply the percentage of the population not attending church weekly. Turning to the data, we see that table 5.3 is almost identical to table 5.2. Per capita gross national product, a good measure of modernization, is powerfully correlated with the secularization rate, as is the number of tele-

modernization, secularization, and mormon growth


phones per ,000 residents. And, as in Latin America, the percentage of the labor force employed in agriculture is strongly negatively correlated with secularization. The second level in table 5.3 shows a strong negative correlation between secularization and revival. The latter is a measure based on the number of North American evangelical Protestant mission congregations in each European nation. The results show that U.S. and Canadian evangelicals are

table 5.3 Correlations (r) in Europe modernization and secularization secularization rate percent employed in agriculture


per capita gross national product


phones per ,000

.75 revival and secularization

rate of evangelical protestant missions


modernization and revival Evangelical Protestant Mission Rate percent employed in agriculture


per capita gnp


phones per ,000


secularization, modernization, and lds success lds membership rate secularization rate percent employed in agriculture

.72 -.66

per capita gnp


phones per ,000


secularization, modernization, and eastern religions asian and eastern religious centers rate secularization rate


percent employed in agriculture


per capita gnp


phones per ,000


lds membership rate


0 modernization, secularization, and mormon growth

doing much better in those nations of Europe where church attendance remains high—in the Catholic south. The third level in table 5.3 shows that modernization is very negatively related to the success of evangelical Protestant missionaries. Table 5.3 also shows that secularization creates opportunities for LDS growth—the Mormons have the highest membership rates in the most secularized parts of Europe: Britain and Scandinavia. Moreover, they thrive in the most modernized nations. But the table shows something else of interest. To begin the explanation, the rate of Asian and Eastern cult centers is based on counts of religious centers devoted to new religious movements from India and Asia (Stark 985). While such movements gain immense publicity from their U.S. activities, the fact is that they are much more successful in Britain and in northern Europe than they are here. Moreover, their pattern of success precisely reflects that of the Latter-day Saints—the correlation between the two rates is .78. Once again we see that new religions succeed only to the extent that weakness in the conventional faiths gives them the opportunity to do so. Put another way, empty Lutheran churches in Scandinavia are good news for LDS missionaries as well as for gurus. Figure 5.2 shows three path models of the process by which modernization generates secularization in Europe, which in turn leads to successful LDS missionary efforts. In two of the three, the effects of modernization on LDS growth is completely accounted for by secularization, and the amount of variance explained by each model is very impressive. I am mindful that many social scientists think that a few small and scattered clusters of European Latter-day Saints are no threat to the triumph of secularization and modernity. Indeed, Roy Wallis (986) stressed that rates of LDS membership in Europe are far smaller than the rate in the United States. Of course they are. They also are lower than the rates for most Latin American nations. But was Wallis correct to conclude that this shows that despite mission efforts beginning in the middle of the nineteenth century Europe has withstood LDS efforts? I think not, because European Mormonism is actually very recent (I am excluding nineteenth-century LDS growth in Europe since most converts immigrated to Utah) and the rates of growth are quite impressive. Great Britain provides the best illustration. From 900 through 950 the number of British Latter-day Saints held quite steady at just over 6,000. During this period Mormon missionary efforts in Europe were hampered by World War I, which also suspended LDS emigration. Soon thereafter came the Great Depression and then World War II. For these reasons, Mormon missionary activity in Britain and Europe did not really resume until the 950s. At that time, however, there was no encouragement to emigrate, unlike during the nineteenth century. Since

figure 5.2 Path Models Based on Europe

2 modernization, secularization, and mormon growth

the resumption of mission activities, the LDS community in Britain has been growing very rapidly. By 960 there were more than 7,000 members. In 970 there were more than 68,000, and by 980 membership had grown to about 9,000 (Currie, Gilbert, and Horsley 977). By 2002 there were over 75,000 British Latter-day Saints. Again, I admit that 75,000 members constitutes a small religious body in Britain. But once again I suggest that we must take growth rates like these seriously simply because the arithmetic of growth compounds numbers with incredible rapidity. The pattern of LDS growth is similar for Western Europe overall, although there is substantial variation across nations. It also must be noted that no Continental nation has as high a rate of Mormon membership as does Great Britain. Does this mean that people on the Continent have greater immunity to LDS appeals? Or is this simply a lag due to a later beginning and to barriers of language? I suggest the data are more compatible with lag than with immunity. One reason for this belief is that the growth curves on the Continent, in general, do resemble those for Great Britain. It also seems instructive that Mormon membership rates are especially high in all the English-speaking nations—in fact, New Zealand’s rate surpasses that of the United States. Although the Church of Jesus Christ runs an amazingly efficient language school for their young missionaries, it is still a challenge to start going door-to-door in Finland, for example, after only a few weeks of Finnish lessons. We can see clearly that the Latter-day Saints are on the brink of becoming a significant religious body in Europe, if we keep in mind that they have only really been active there for about fifty years.

Conclusion Many of my colleagues believe the pool of potential new LDS converts is rapidly drying up and soon will be fished out, causing growth rates to plummet. Their reason is that the worldwide trend toward modernization will inevitably result in secularization, and therefore all forms of religion will be relegated to cultural byways and backwaters. In this chapter I demonstrated that faith in these secularization theses is sadly misplaced and that, contrary to prevailing views, modernization and secularization actually stimulate LDS growth. However, it would be rash to suppose that my model assumes there are no ups and downs in the levels of religiousness in societies or to suggest that I expect the immediate replacement of secularized religious organizations by new, more otherworldly and vigorous bodies. What I propose is that in the long run this is what happens. Even during periods when religious

modernization, secularization, and mormon growth


economies display extreme levels of secularization my model cannot predict just how soon a new faith will successfully fill the gap (or which new faith will do so). All it can predict is that in such times and places there will be an abundance of new faiths attempting to seize the opportunity for growth. Overwhelmingly these efforts will fail because most new religious movements are ill-conceived and misdirected. What my model does predict is where movements, such as Mormonism, will cluster and achieve their greatest relative success.

 6. The Basis of Mormon Success

Since 830, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has sustained explosive growth. Many observers have struggled to understand why Mormonism continues to flourish. To answer this question, I present a refined theoretical model of why religious movements succeed. My initial version of this model (Stark 987) was stimulated by my observation that the many case studies of new religious movements were in almost every instance studies of a group that had failed or would soon do so. How could the failures be separated from the rare groups that succeed? I developed an integrated set of eight propositions and illustrated them with historical materials. More recently, I incorporated my model into my lengthy study of the rise of Christianity (Stark 996a). Subsequently, I extended my model to apply to all religious movements, having initially excluded sects (Stark 996b). That is the version I utilize here. In this chapter I will examine whether (and to what extent) the Church of Jesus Christ satisfies each element of my theory. Rather than using illustrative and qualitative materials alone, I will test major propositions using quantitative data from a variety of sources.

Conservation of Cultural Capital As discussed earlier, and stated here as a proposition: People will be more willing to join a religious group to the degree that doing so minimizes their expenditure of cultural capital. In the form stated above, the principle of the conservation of cultural capital explains individual behavior vis-à-vis conversion. Since my concern

the basis of mormon success


here is with the fate of religious movements, a macro-level form of the proposition is needed and becomes the first of the ten propositions constituting the theory: () New religious movements are likely to succeed to the extent that they retain cultural continuity with the conventional faith(s) of the societies in which they seek converts. Mormonism is deeply rooted in Christian culture. It is not transplanted Hinduism or a novel amalgam of Eastern mysticism or pure novelty. Rather, Mormonism embraces the entire Christian-Judaic tradition and adds to it in logical fashion, incorporating a more modern worldview. Latter-day Saints continue to read and study the Old and New Testaments, but they also accept the authority of the Book of Mormon, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” Since 830, the LDS Church has published over 20 million copies of the Book of Mormon in over one hundred languages; LDS members and missionaries distributed over 4.6 million copies in 2003 alone. The Book of Mormon expands the scriptural narrative of the Bible to include the New World. Indeed, it continues the story of Israel, beginning with the settlement of the Americas by Hebrews well before the birth of Jesus. The first two books,  and 2 Nephi, explain how Lehi, with his wife, Sariah, his four sons—Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi—and their families and followers left Jerusalem just before the Babylonian captivity, boarded a large ship built by Nephi and his brothers at God’s command, and sailed off to a new land across the sea: And it came to pass after we had all gone down to the ship, and had taken with us our provisions and things which had been commanded us, we did put forth into the sea and were driven forth before the wind towards the promised land. . . . And it came to pass that after we had sailed for the space of many days we did arrive at the promised land; and we went forth upon the land, and did pitch our tents; and we did call it the promised land. ( Nephi 8:8, 23)

According to the Book of Mormon, these were the main ancestors of the population of the Western Hemisphere. Eventually they split into two great tribes, the Lamanites (descendants of Lehi’s wicked son Laman) and the Nephites (descendants of Lehi’s faithful son Nephi). A series of battles between the two tribes is described until 3 Nephi, which recounts Jesus’ visit to the Americas following the Resurrection and resulting in a long period of peace. But reading further we learn that the people turned once again to sin and conflict, leading to a great battle fought at the Hill Cumorah, whereupon the Nephites were wiped out. Thus, persons descended from pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere are called Laman-

6 the basis of mormon success

ites, although because of intermarriage between groups they may also have Nephite and other ancestry. The Book of Mormon not only extends the geographic scope of the Bible but also clarifies it in many ways. Catholic sociologist Thomas O’Dea (957:30) noted its lucidity: There is nothing obscure or unclear in its doctrine. Even the notion of prophecy and revelation, so central to it, leads to intellectual clarity. The revelation of the Book of Mormon is not a glimpse of higher and incomprehensible truths but reveals God’s words to men with a democratic comprehensibility. “Plainness” of doctrine—straightforwardness and an absence of subtle casuistries—was for its rural audience a mark of its genuineness.

Joseph Smith’s subsequent revelations added to this clarity and provided a much fuller and more comprehensible view of Jehovah and of the fundamental basis of existence. Joseph did not add mysteries to Christianity; he dispelled them and offered a more complete cosmology. In an age such as ours, marked by rapid change and constant technological innovation, there is a widespread predisposition to expect new tidings of all kinds. We expect to know more about everything than once was known. Yet Christianity has, for the most part, argued that the Age of Revelations is past, that two thousand years ago God said everything there was to be said. In contrast, the Latter-day Saints argue that God has more to say as humans gain in their capacity to understand: “And now, O all ye that have imagined up unto yourselves a god who can do no miracles, I would ask of you, have all these things passed, of which I have spoken? Has the end come yet? Behold I say unto you, Nay; and God has not ceased to be a God of miracles” (Mormon 9:5). Even the most bitter Christian critics of the Book of Mormon have noted its modernity and the immense suitability of the Mormon message for the contemporary consciousness. Indeed, they have used this as proof that the work is of modern authorship. But, for the Latter-day Saints, this is simply proof that it was intended by God for latter-day readers, and they dare Christian theologians to deny that God is capable of foreseeing history. I shall delay an examination of important LDS additions to Christian theology until the discussion of tension and strictness. Here we may examine several tests of the principle of the conservation of cultural capital. The first of these is that Jehovah’s Witnesses will have an advantage over the Latter-day Saints when both seek converts within Christian societies. This is supported by the fact that Witnesses outnumber Latter-day Saints in

the basis of mormon success


Europe. In contrast, the two movements have achieved quite similar results in Asia, where both lack cultural continuity. The immense LDS preponderance in the South Pacific is easily understood despite Mormonism’s apparent lack of continuity with local religious culture. Polynesians are an unhistorical people in that they do not appear in secular histories until the arrival of European explorers, and they only appear very briefly then. However, a passage in the Book of Mormon (Alma 63:5)1 has long been interpreted to refer to the settlement of Polynesia, and a considerable amount of Mormon culture has grown up on this topic. Polynesians have responded very favorably to their Mormon history. At first glance it would seem that Christian sects, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, should have an advantage in Latin America on the basis of cultural continuity. This is not reflected in membership statistics, however, as the Witnesses are outnumbered by Latter-day Saints in Latin America. But upon closer inspection it appears that Latter-day Saints enjoy greater cultural continuity in Latin America than do the Witnesses, despite claims that it is a Catholic continent. The principle of the conservation of cultural capital favors the Witnesses over the Latter-day Saints only if Latin America has been sufficiently Christianized. But it seems to me that most Latin Americans have such a small investment in traditional Christian cultural capital that the Witnesses have little advantage. Moreover, the alleged cultural continuity between Mormonism and pre-Columbian faiths that have never died out may give the Latter-day Saints a substantial advantage. Elsewhere I have demonstrated that despite claims that Latin America consists of Catholic societies its people are exceedingly unchurched (Stark 992a). Although more than 90 percent of the population in most Latin American nations is claimed as Catholic, levels of practice are extremely low, and for huge numbers of people “religion” is probably little more than an exotic mixture of fragments of Christianity and pre-Columbian religion, plus a great deal of folk magic. Some evidence of this can be seen in the widespread belief in reincarnation found in Latin American nations. According to the World Values Surveys conducted in 990 and 99, 56 percent of Brazilians, 49 percent of Chileans, 43 percent of Mexicans, and 40 percent of Argentinians believe in reincarnation. Moreover, within these Latin nations belief in reincarnation is concentrated among the Catholics. For “Catholics” who believe in reincarnation (and probably many other notions heretical to mainstream Catholicism), conversion to a Christian sect such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses probably would require as large a capital investment as would conversion to Mormonism.

8 the basis of mormon success

Furthermore, according to the Book of Mormon, today’s descendants of pre-Columbian Americans are, through Lehi, direct descendants of Abraham. To be Mormon is their birthright, and many Latin American Mormons interpret this as a superior claim to membership in comparison with Saints of European ancestry who are, in some sense, Latter-day Saints only by “adoption” (Murphy 996). Moreover, the Book of Mormon is accepted by Latin American converts, especially in Central America, as the authentic history of pre-Columbian times. Thomas W. Murphy (996) found that Guatemalan Latter-day Saints referred to many ancient Mayan ruins by names found in the Book of Mormon. Of equal significance are the many parallels Guatemalan Saints identify between the Book of Mormon and a pre-Columbian Mayan epic known as the Popol Vuh. According to Murphy (996:82–83): The Popol Vuh . . . is required reading in public schools. . . . Guatemalan members told me that although the names of the people and places were different, both books spoke of the visit of Jesus to the Americas, gods, wars, the tower of Babel, Creation, Trinity, and Satan. . . . Jesus was explicitly identified by Guatemalan Mormons with the Sovereign Plumed Serpent in the Popol Vuh.

Not only does the focus of Mormonism on the Western Hemisphere and on pre-Columbian times provide substantial cultural continuity with indigenous religious culture, but it also has had a major impact on LDS missionary approaches to that culture (Mauss 2003). Recall that only a few months after the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ in 830 Joseph Smith sent four missionaries to the Indians in Missouri. This reflects the immense concern Latter-day Saints have about all the peoples native to the New World. Consequently, they have directed a very substantial proportion of their missionary effort to Latin America. This extra effort may also help explain why they have outperformed the Jehovah’s Witnesses there. Finally, Mormonism is very closely associated with Americanism—if for no other reason than the presence of large numbers of young American missionaries. Given the alienation of most American intellectuals (and especially social scientists) from American culture, it would be easy to overlook the great admiration for this culture that exists in many other parts of the world. Just as British converts to Mormonism might have found it hard to distinguish the attractions of the religion from the attractions of emigration, so, too, many Latin American converts might find it very difficult to separate Mormonism from the modern American lifestyle. Indeed, many Latin American Leftists cannot separate the two (Young

the basis of mormon success


994). Thus, in 989 Leftist terrorists in Bolivia murdered two young Mormon missionaries on grounds that they were violating Bolivia’s sovereignty on behalf of Yankee interests. The same rationale was expressed by the Shining Path terrorists in Peru following their murder of Mormon missionaries. In fact, there have been hundreds of bombings, arsons, and acts of vandalism against LDS Church buildings in Latin America, reflecting attacks on “whatever smells Yankee,” according to a U.S. State Department spokesperson (Young 994:5). Indeed, rapid LDS growth arouses the political Right as well as the Left in many Latin nations because the Latter-day Saints proselytize the Indians, which antagonizes the wealthy landowners (Young 994). Lawrence A. Young has written of the “challenges encountered by the Mormon church as it seeks to enter Latin America, where the church . . . carries a heavy load of cultural baggage related to its being marked an American church” (994:52). He also suggests the need for the church to “develop indigenous religious expressions.” These points are probably well taken, especially in an analysis of causes of conflict between the Latter-day Saints and various host societies, but it seems important not to overlook the attractions of Americanism in the overall conversion process. Nor should we minimize the impressions made on locals by the mere fact that all these attractive, lively, young, American missionaries are self-supporting volunteers—that people who could be in college or otherwise enjoying the fruits of North American prosperity have instead chosen to share their faith with Latin Americans, regardless of the latters’ social status.

If Prophecy Fails Other things being equal, failed prophecies are harmful for religious movements. Although prophecies may arouse a great deal of excitement and attract many new followers beforehand, the subsequent disappointment usually offsets these benefits. Contrary to textbook summaries, cognitive dissonance theory does not propose that failed prophecies typically strengthen a religious group. Nor is it established that religious groups respond initially to a failed prophecy with increased levels of proselytizing. A careful reading of the famous example (Festinger, Riecken, and Schachter 956) reveals no such group effect actually occurred, and no subsequent studies have found it (Bainbridge 997). This discussion leads to the second proposition in the theory: (2) New religious movements are likely to succeed to the extent that their doctrines are nonempirical. Religions are less vulnerable to the extent that their doctrines are focused on a nonempirical reality and are not subject to empirical tests.

20 the basis of mormon success

Mormon liberals often concern themselves with conflicts between the Book of Mormon and archaeological research. Claims that Lehi and his followers found wild cows and horses do not seem to square with the fossil record. Of course, Christian liberals have long been expressing similar concerns about the biblical account of the Creation and the flood. But if these things worry liberals, it must be noticed that tens of millions of evangelical Christians are not troubled about the flood, nor are millions of Latter-day Saints worried about Lehi’s horses. The basic problem for both Christian and Mormon liberals is that they inevitably project their inability to believe on everyone else. Mormon liberals worry about disconfirmations of the Book of Mormon because they don’t really believe that it is an ancient and inspired scripture but think that it is something Joseph Smith composed, consciously or otherwise. Orthodox Latter-day Saints, believing the book to be the Word of God, are not only able to accommodate some discrepancies but also fully expect archaeologists to find evidence in support of scripture, which is why the church has supported a considerable amount of New World archaeology (Givens 2002). Interestingly enough, the orthodox have had some substantial successes. For example, John L. Sorenson (985) devoted many years to constructing a map of the Book of Mormon. Working entirely with textual references, he located places in relation to one another (how long did it take to walk from Nephi to Zarahemla and in what direction?) and to the topography as described therein. This map turned out to be a remarkable fit for the area surrounding the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico and northern Guatemala. In any event, fundamental assertions about geography and culture found in the Book of Mormon are not very susceptible to disproof by archaeologists or anyone else, and Mormon doctrines are not at risk of being too empirical. Of perhaps even greater importance, the LDS Church is not given to empirically vulnerable prophesying, unlike various Protestant sects that engage in dating the end of time. It is these short-term and dramatic prophecies that cause so much damage when they fail, as shown by studies of the impact of the failure of the end to come in 975 upon commitment among Jehovah’s Witnesses (Singelenberg 989).

Medium Tension (Strictness) In order to grow, a religious movement must offer religious culture that sets it apart from the general, secular culture. That is, movements must be distinctive and impose relatively strict moral standards. (3) New religious move-

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ments are likely to succeed to the extent that they maintain a medium level of tension with their surrounding environment—are strict, but not too strict. In its initial form (Stark 987) this proposition made no mention of strictness. However, the implications of the proposition are more fully revealed if the theoretical work on “strictness” is made an explicit part (Kelley 972; Iannaccone 992, 994; Stark and Iannaccone 993). Strictness refers to the degree that a religious group maintains “a separate and distinctive life style or morality in personal and family life, in such areas as dress, diet, drinking, entertainment, uses of time, sex, child rearing, and the like.” Or, a group is not strict to the degree that it affirms “the current . . . mainline life style in these respects” (Iannaccone 994:90). From the start, Latter-day Saints have maintained a relatively high but usually manageable level of tension with their surrounding society. When anti-Mormon antagonism in Illinois resulted in the murders of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, and mobs demanded that Latter-day Saints leave the state at once, the initial LDS response was to withdraw into their own isolated society in Utah. But as non-Mormons began to populate the West persecution resumed and focused on plural marriage, which was by then openly practiced, especially by the most prominent Latter-day Saints. During the 880s, the federal government launched an all-out effort to prosecute polygamists under a new statute. Some polygamous families fled to Canada, others to Mexico; many LDS leaders went into hiding. Faced with these dangers, the Church of Jesus Christ reduced its tension with the external society in 890 by prohibiting new plural marriages. This drew a favorable response from U.S. President Benjamin Harrison, who in 893 issued a proclamation of amnesty to all polygamists who had entered into that relationship prior to November , 890. Subsequently, the church periodically has moved to prevent its tension with non–Latter-day Saint society from becoming excessive, most dramatically in 978 when the revelation was announced that henceforth men of all races would be eligible for the Mormon priesthood. This is not to suggest that the church changed its position in response to external pressures (which actually seem to have been lower in 978 than during the 960s). Indeed, it appears to this outsider that the pressures were largely internal because many members, including President Spencer W. Kimball, did a lot of praying about the matter. In any event, the effect of this and other modifications has been not so much to decrease tension with the outside world as to keep it within tolerable limits. Put another way, the Latter-day Saints have softened many of their original positions on a variety of issues, and they have modified many practices, but the net result has been to maintain a relatively stable degree of tension over time (Mauss 994).

22 the basis of mormon success

Today, Latter-day Saint tension with the outside world takes two primary forms. First, the Saints are stricter in terms of the moral rules governing their lifestyles and the levels of commitment expected of the individual member. Second, they embrace a significantly different theology. Latter-day Saints do not drink coffee or tea. Many also avoid caffeinated soft drinks. And they reject tobacco and alcohol. It is worth noting that these are norms, not rules, in that no one is expelled for drinking coffee or liquor or for smoking. Moreover, Latter-day Saints also condemn pre- and extramarital sex—both draw official church sanctions. In addition, Latter-day Saints are expected to devote a great deal of time and energy to church activities and to tithe their incomes. Table 6. demonstrates the positive effects of strictness by comparing active and nominal Mormons and then merging the two groups to show what Mormon congregations would look like if the free riders, those who contribute little but take a lot, were included. The data are based on merged 972 through 994 General Social Surveys, which included 430 persons who identified themselves as Latter-day Saints (excluding members of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known today as the “Community of Christ”). Active Saints are defined as those who attend church at least once a week. Nominal Saints attend less often: two-thirds said they attended less than once a month. Of course, all church congregations have some very active and some very inactive members. What strict congregations lack is an excess of lukewarm members who participate somewhat but not very enthusiastically. That is, Latter-day Saints who don’t go to church every week tend not to show up often enough to reduce the religious rewards of the active members. More than 90 percent of active Latter-day Saints strongly identify with their faith. But this percentage would fall to less than two-thirds if the nominal members were counted. Prayer activity would fall drastically in a congregation in which the nominals took some part, but intermarriage would not be affected at all—mixed marriages being low even among nominal Latter-day Saints. No active member in the sample smokes, but nominal Latter-day Saints smoke at the national average. Hardly any (6 percent) active Latter-day Saints drink alcohol, but the majority of nominal members do. The same contrast shows up regarding going to bars and taverns. Thus, strictness creates highly committed, distinctive LDS congregations by weeding out the potential free riders. Distinctiveness also characterizes LDS theology, for it is as much a departure from traditional Christianity as that faith was, in turn, from Judaism. Mormonism deals with many questions left unanswered by historical Christianity, including the origins of God, the creation of new souls, and

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table 6. Active and Nominal Latter-day Saints, from General Social Surveys, 972–994 percentage who



combined u.s.




have “strong” identification with denomination





pray daily





















go to a bar at least once a year





have lds

a b



Number of cases is slightly smaller for items not asked each year. Married persons only.

the ultimate aim of the individual human biography. It postulates an infinite number of universes, each created and ruled over by an omnipotent God and his wife—the couple is the basic unit in Mormon thought. We live in one of these universes. Where did God and his wife come from? Once they were mere humans just as we are. They rose to divinity and hence to create and rule their own universe after a long period of spiritual development. Individual humans on earth possess immortal souls that were infused in each at the moment of birth. These souls, in turn, are the offspring of the divine couple, produced through their union. Each human thus begins not merely in the image of God but as the literal child of the gods, possessed of the divine substance. Therefore each human can aspire to godhood, and each LDS couple can hope one day to create and rule their own universe, which is why eternal, celestial marriages, sealed in LDS temples, are of such great significance. Latter-day Saints do not mean merely to worship God, nor do they contemplate only spending eternity with God. They mean to become divine. These novel aspects of Mormon theology are more than sufficient to generate several shelves of angry anti-Mormon books in every evangelical Christian bookstore. And this ad ran for years in Christianity Today: “MORMONISM IS A FALSE RELIGION. For a FREE one-year subscription that offers a revealing look at Mormonism from a Christian perspective, call . . .”

24 the basis of mormon success

Legitimate Authority While it is convenient to speak of organizations doing this or that, we must always keep in mind that, in fact, organizations never do anything. Only people can act, and individual actions can be interpreted as being on behalf of an organization only to the extent that they are coordinated and directed. That is, all successful social movements require effective leaders, and to be effective the leaders’ authority must be seen as legitimate. Stated as a complex proposition: (4) Religious movements will succeed to the extent that they have legitimate leaders with adequate authority to be effective. This, in turn, will depend upon two factors: 4a. Adequate authority requires clear doctrinal justifications for an effective and legitimate leadership. 4b. Authority is regarded as more legitimate and gains in effectiveness to the degree that members perceive themselves as participants in the system of authority. There are many bases for legitimate authority within organizations, depending on factors such as whether members are paid to participate, or whether special skills and experience are recognized as vital qualifications to lead, or both. However, when organizations stress doctrines, as all religious movements do, these doctrines must define the basis for leadership. Who may lead, and how is leadership obtained? What powers are granted to leaders? What sanctions may leaders impose? These are vital matters, brought into clear relief by the many examples of groups that failed (or are failing) for lack of doctrines defining a legitimate basis for effective leadership. That doctrines can directly cause ineffective leadership is widely evident in contemporary New Age and “metaphysical” groups. If everyone is a “student,” and everyone’s ideas and insights are equally valid, then no one can say what must be done or who is to do what, when. The result is the existence of virtual nonorganizations—mere affinity or discussion groups incapable of action (Wagner 983). In similar fashion the early Christian Gnostics could not sustain effective organizations because their fundamental doctrines prevented them from ever being anything more than a loose network of individual adepts, each pursuing secret knowledge through private, personal means (Pagels 979). In contrast, from the start Christianity had doctrines appropriate for an effective structure of authority since Christ himself was believed to have selected his successors as head of the church. LDS doctrine speaks with a clear, powerful voice on the matter of leadership. The church president is considered to be “prophet, seer, and revelator.” That is, since Joseph Smith was granted revelations by God, his successors to

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the presidency gain similar powers—what Max Weber described as a replacement of the charisma of the prophet by the charisma of office. The president gains office simply by being the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the ruling body of the church. The Quorum selects its own new members to replace those who die and those who join the First Presidency. The president and two counselors he chooses through inspiration and with the approval of the rest of the Quorum constitute this presidency. The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles oversee both the temporal and the spiritual affairs of the church. They frequently promulgate new policies and affirm old ones, often doing so by letter to general and local church officers. This example, as reported in the Deseret News Church Almanac (996:7), is instructive: The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve reaffirmed the Church’s policy on discipline 2 November 993, saying, “We have the responsibility to preserve the doctrinal purity of the Church.” The letter explained that apostasy refers to church members who “repeatedly act in clear, open and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders; or persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine after being corrected by their bishops or higher authority; or continue to follow the teachings of apostate cults (such as those that advocate plural marriage) after being corrected by their bishops or higher authority.”

The references to offenders being corrected by bishops affirm local LDS authority. Each ward (congregation) is led by a bishop and his two counselors. They may inspect the lives of the rank-and-file and impose a number of sanctions upon miscreants. They can withdraw a member’s temple “recommend,” which provides access to LDS temples. Members may also be disfellowshipped for a period, during which they may not perform various ward functions such as teaching Sunday school or giving prayers at meetings. Excommunication is the most severe sanction and is very rarely used, being reserved for grievous offenses such as adultery. The church enjoys a vigorous leadership whose legitimacy is clearly and firmly based on doctrines. But it would be wrong to stress only the hierarchical nature of LDS authority and its authoritarian aspects, for the Latterday Saints display an amazing degree of amateur participation at all levels of their formal structure. Moreover, this highly authoritarian body also displays extraordinary levels of participatory democracy—to a considerable extent the rank-and-file Saints are the church. A central aspect of this is that among the Latter-day Saints to be a priest is an unpaid, part-time role that all committed males are expected to fulfill.

26 the basis of mormon success

First, LDS men serve as priests2 within their own families. Family home evening is conducted by the father and is partly devotional, partly focused on family activities together, and partly given to exploring any problems within the family. Second, these same men serve as priests to one another’s families through their role as monthly visitors. Every Mormon household (including single people living alone) is visited each month by two men from the ward (congregation) within which the household is located. The visitors are assigned on a regular basis, and the visit is devoted to religious and personal counseling. Questions concerning a teenager’s new friends could easily come up during a home visit, as could family financial problems, marital difficulties, or absences from religious services. Indeed, Latterday Saints who have not attended church for years are still visited monthly. Visitors are required to call unless a person requests formal excommunication—a step many members do not take even if they are quite disaffected. Hence, should their outlook ever change, the church is still in touch with them and positioned to welcome them back. While the impact of the visitor system must be great on Latter-day Saints generally, consider the impact on the visitors themselves. They routinely perform pastoral duties of great importance—they are being real, not nominal, priests. Indeed, all LDS priests are unpaid “amateurs”—each ward is led by a bishop who must earn his own living in a secular occupation, all stake (a group of several wards) presidents are self-supporting, and so on up through the church structure. Although the president of the church and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles carry out their duties full time and receive living expenses (which are not extravagant by any means), they rose to those lofty ranks without financial assistance. This is also true for the tens of thousands of young Mormon missionaries around the world. The church provides a ticket to and from their mission post. All other expenses during their two-year tour are paid by their families or by funds they saved prior to going on their mission—no missionary is permitted to work a regular job during full-time missionary service. All young Mormon men (nineteen to twenty-five years old) of good moral standing are encouraged to go on their mission, and about one-third actually do (Shepherd and Shepherd 998:9). An unpaid, lay priesthood has several very important consequences. First, the Latter-day Saints attract no clergy motivated by a secure living, for the job of bishop usually involves financial sacrifices. Second, they do not suffer from having their affairs directed by persons of very little practical experience, something that tends to be true for groups having a professional clergy. Church leaders typically have had very successful secular careers. The late Ezra Taft Benson, thirteenth president of the church, served as U.S. secretary of agriculture from 953 to 96 during the administration of Dwight

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Eisenhower. His successor, the late Howard W. Hunter, fourteenth president of the church, was a prominent corporate lawyer before being named to the Quorum. One member of the Quorum served as president of the Society for Vascular Surgery, another was a nuclear engineer, and former corporate executives abound. To more fully appreciate the diffusion of authority within the church, consider the composition of the average congregation gathered in any ward hall on a Sunday. Unpaid amateurs conduct the services. Many of those sitting in the audience have conducted the services in the past and could again on a moment’s notice. Many present are former bishops or counselors. Many others will become bishops. A substantial number in attendance (of both sexes) have gone on full-time missions. Everyone, male and female, devotes many hours each month to volunteer work for the church. How could they not feel that they participate in the system of authority? Moreover, for an “authoritarian” body, the church is amazingly unspecific and nondirective on many important issues. Consider the tithe. What could be more important to an organization than funding? Yet the church steadfastly refuses to define the tithe. Is it 0 percent of gross income or of net income? Both views are widely held. If a family has someone on a mission, can that person’s expenses be deducted from the tithe? Some say yes, some say no. The church won’t say. How is it determined who has tithed? Every year the bishop asks the head of each household whether the family tithed in the past year. Those who say yes, did. And what if a Latter-day Saint responds that he or she gave less than a tithe? Seldom will the bishop express disapproval.

The LDS Labor Force In order to grow, religious movements need missionaries. Other things being equal, the more missionaries seeking converts, and the harder these missionaries work, the faster a religious movement will grow. In addition to doing missionary work, a large, volunteer religious labor force contributes to the strength of religious movements in other important ways (Iannaccone, Olson, and Stark 995). For example, labor can often be substituted for capital. Thus, while many religious groups not only must pay their clergy but also must pay for all their clerical, cleaning, and maintenance services, other groups are able to rely on volunteer labor to provide all these things. This leads to the following proposition: (5) Religious movements will grow to the extent that they can generate a highly motivated, volunteer religious labor force, including many members willing to proselytize.

28 the basis of mormon success

The Latter-day Saints rely entirely on volunteers to perform all activities in the local congregation. This is facilitated by Saints’ response to the expectation that they contribute time to church work. In fact, this expectation generates so much available local labor that bishops and others in the ward devote substantial effort to finding things for volunteers to do, and it often turns out that a lot of the time is spent performing social services for other members. But the most visible part of the LDS labor force is made up of those young men and women who knock on your door and offer to tell you about their religion. By 2002 more than 850,000 Latter-day Saints had served a tour of mission duty since 830. According to sociologists Gary Shepherd and Gordon Shepherd, “There is no other religious denomination in the world—Catholic, Protestant, or non-Christian—whose full-time proselyting force is even close in size to that recruited, trained, and supported by the LDS Church” (998:9). In 2002 alone, there were 6,638 full-time Latterday Saint missionaries (see table 6.2). Approximately 75 percent are young men, 8 percent single women, and 7 percent senior citizen couples, as of 2003. These missionaries receive intensive proselyting and language training (over fifty languages are taught) at one of the church’s seventeen Missionary Training Centers worldwide. These missionary campuses are located in Provo, Utah; Preston, England; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Mexico City, Mexico; Santiago, Chile; Bogata, Columbia; Lima, Peru; Guatemala City, Guatemala; Hamilton, New Zealand; Manila, the Philippines; Tokyo, Japan; Seoul, South Korea; Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic; Madrid, Spain; Accra, Ghana; and Johannesburg, South Africa. Remember, however, that members, not full-time missionaries, are the most efficient agents of conversion. Nevertheless, missionaries do serve as the primary means for bringing a conversion to fruition as they take primary responsibility for religious instruction both before and after the person is baptized into the church. That is, missionaries often enter the picture when a person has already been brought to a serious level of interest by Mormon friends, or relatives, or both. Mormon relatives also are a major part of the informal LDS labor force. It is possible that going on a mission has more impact on Latter-day Saint commitment than it does on Mormon conversion. The expectation of going on a mission motivates years of preparation by LDS teenagers who attend seminary sessions each morning before school. Then the missionary experience does not only reflect commitment, it builds it. It is one thing to be raised in a religion; it is quite something else to go out in young adulthood and witness full-time for your religion—not only to teach your religion to others but also to participate in their conversion. The missionary experience ensures a deep level of understanding of Mormon doctrines in intellectual

the basis of mormon success table 6.2 LDS Missionary Growth Since 830 missions







































































And territories. At founding, April 6, 830. c Estimated. d Figures given hereafter are as calculated at year’s end. b

terms and also at the gut level of how they inspire the individual. Moreover, to have gained converts serves to validate the truth of the religion to the missionary (Festinger 957). In fact, to gain converts greatly increases the missionary’s obligation to remain faithful—to then lapse from the church is, in a deeply emotional way, to break faith with those converts. The immense importance of the missionary experience for Latter-day Saints is underscored by the frequency with which reunions are held to draw together members of all ages who served in a particular mission area. Just prior to the semiannual general conference of the church, Utah newspapers advertise hundreds of reunion notices. Much as their common experience once bound together Americans who had served in the armed forces (an experience that cuts across age differences and cuts out nonveterans), so does the mission experience provide a common cultural currency for Latter-day Saints. But it is not faith alone that sustains Mormon commitment to the mission; Latter-day Saints fully recognize its remarkable socializing effects on those who go. This is evident on a visit to Brigham Young University, where large numbers of students (especially men) are returned missionaries. Not

30 the basis of mormon success

only are they two years older than the average undergraduate elsewhere, but they are also far more self-assured, polished, mature, and, above all, confident. A Mormon colleague who sent five sons on missions told me: “A boy who has spent two years going door-to-door in a strange place, where they may speak a strange language, trying to get people to join a strange religion, never lacks for confidence again in his life. Whatever else happens to him, he knows in his heart that he can handle tough assignments and that earning a living is not going to be a problem.” Moreover, people who have been on missions are extremely well prepared for the lifelong sharing of faith that really gets results—forming attachments to non–Latter-day Saints and building their interest in the church. Latter-day Saints are also good recruiters because they are unusually successful people. That is, when non–Latterday Saints encounter the Mormon subculture they meet a closely knit community with an exemplary family life and a community of high achievers.

The LDS Ethic In my judgment, Mormon success is rooted in theology. Christian theology enjoins people not to sin but acknowledges that no human is capable of sinlessness. Mormon theology maintains that each person is expected to achieve sinlessness. The process may take several eternities of posthumous effort, but there is no reason not to get started on the job now. If Christians feel guilt when they sin, Latter-day Saints often seem to feel disappointment and impatience. This appears to be the psychological basis for the very optimistic, “can do” spirit so many have noticed among Latter-day Saints. A person who aspires to divinity is not likely to flinch from challenges in a business or professional career. Mormon theology also stimulates achievement in direct ways, for it places a premium on rationality and intellectual growth. As Thomas O’Dea (957:47–48) points out, the expectation that Latter-day Saints can achieve divinity rests not only on spiritual development but also on knowledge. God is not merely pure in spirit, but he fully comprehends the whole universe— indeed, he is its creator. “The Mormon definition of life makes the earthly sojourn basically an educative process. Knowledge is necessary to mastery, and the way to deification is through mastery, for not only does education aid man in fulfilling present tasks, it advances him in his eternal progress.” In a set of LDS scriptures, the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph Smith revealed that the knowledge “we attain unto in this life will rise with us in the resurrection,” and therefore the more we learn now, the more our “advantage in the world to come.” Elsewhere in the same work Smith urged, “Seek

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ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (see O’Dea 957:47–48). These were not pious platitudes. An LDS emphasis on education, both for children and for adults, was manifested in schools and in formal educational programs almost from the founding of the church. Considering the virtual nonexistence of higher education in the United States in the 840s, it is astonishing that the Latter-day Saints established a municipal university in Nauvoo, where modern and ancient languages, history, literature, and mathematics were taught (O’Dea 957). Then in 850, when the Latter-day Saints had only begun their immense struggle to create a new society in Utah, Brigham Young set aside funds to support a public university—the University of Deseret, now the University of Utah. The university opened briefly in the 850s, but then it was put on hold as other matters became too pressing. It was reopened for good in 868 with 223 pupils, 03 of them women. Sixteen of the women belonged to Brigham Young’s family, and his daughter Susa edited the college paper (Arrington 985:337). This was entirely in keeping with Young’s views that “we have sisters here who, if they had the privilege of studying, would make just as good mathematicians or accountants as any man” (Arrington and Bitten 979:227). It should also be noted that one of the conditions imposed by the federal government in extending statehood to Utah in 896 was the repeal of woman’s suffrage. Until then, women had voted in Utah. Not content with a state university, in 875 the church opened the forerunner to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Today it is one of the largest private and the largest church-supported universities in the nation, enrolling more than thirty thousand students.

Adequate Fertility In order to succeed, (6) religious movements must maintain a level of fertility sufficient to at least offset member mortality. If a religious movement’s appeal is too narrow this may result in a demographic composition incapable of sustaining its ranks. If a group is unable to replace itself through fertility, when the initial generation of converts begins to die its rising rate of mortality may cancel out even a high rate of conversion. In contrast, a religious movement can sustain substantial growth through fertility alone. For example, the Amish have not attracted converts for several decades, and in each generation there is substantial defection. Yet, at the end of each year the number of Amish is greater than before due to their normal demographic composition and a high fertility rate.


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Religious movements typically overrecruit women (Stark and Bainbridge 985; Cornwall 988; Thompson 99; Miller and Hoffman 995; Stark 996a). But this seems not to matter unless it reduces fertility. The early Christian communities had a substantial excess of females, but Christian women probably had higher rates of fertility than did pagan women (Stark 996a). However, when movements greatly overrecruit women who are beyond their childbearing years, that is quite another matter. For example, by greatly overrecruiting older women, Christian Scientists soon faced the need for very high rates of conversion merely to offset high rates of mortality (Stark and Bainbridge 985). Thus, what had been a very rapidly growing movement suddenly ceased to grow and soon entered a period of accelerating decline. Latter-day Saints have larger families than do non–Latter-day Saints. This has been carefully documented many times (Heaton and Calkins 983; Heaton and Goodman 985; Heaton 986a).

Ecological Factors To the extent that a religious economy is crowded with effective and successful firms, it will be harder for new firms to make headway (Stark 985; Stark and Bainbridge 985, [987] 996, 997; Stark and Iannaccone 993, 994). Stated as a proposition: (7) Other things being equal, new and unconventional religious organizations will prosper to the extent that they compete against weak, local, conventional religious organizations within a relatively unregulated religious economy. Put another way, new religious organizations will do best where conventional religious mobilization is lowest—at least to the degree that the state gives such groups a chance to exist. Thus, we ought to find that where conventional church membership and church attendance rates are low the incidence of unconventional religious movements will be high. The individual-level form of this proposition is that converts to religious groups will come primarily from the ranks of the religiously inactive, and that people already involved in a religious body will be relatively unlikely to switch. There has been a considerable amount of research sustaining both the macro- and the micro-level versions of the proposition (Stark and Bainbridge 985, [987] 996). Applied to the Latter-day Saints, this suggests that their growth will be more rapid where there is a relatively large population of the unchurched and inactive. Table 6.3 shows tests of this hypothesis in Canada and in the United States. The data based on the twenty-five Canadian metropolitan

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table 6.3 Religious Ecology and LDS Growth 25 canadian metropolitan areas (99), correlations (r) with percent giving their religious affiliation as “none” lds membership

.60** american states (993), correlations (r) with:

lds membershipb

percent giving their religious affiliation as “none”a

church membership rate per ,000



*p < .05; **p