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Dec 13, 2005 6:11 pm

Things Noted Here and There

Rodney Stark,"How Christianity (and Capitalism) Led to Science," CHE, 2 December. I'm probably more sympathetic to Stark's basic argument than several of my colleagues, but don't get me started on sociologists trying to do history on a grand scale.
Update: In comments, Manan Ahmed, Jonathan Reynolds, and Brian Ulrich give Professor Stark the old one-two-three punches.

Cliopatria's contributing editor, Sean Wilentz, continues to trace out the implications of his work in The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln. In"The Rise of Illiterate Democracy," New York Times, 11 December, he laments the distancing of literature from politics. Meanwhile, Fred Siegel's"When History Meets Politics: The Implicit Politics of a Historians' New Book," Slate, 12 December, is critical of Wilentz's reweaving of a Democratic narrative. Had Siegel been reading Cliopatria's Symposium? Thanks to Caleb McDaniel for the tip.

Marc Fisher,"Unique Montgomery Property For Sale: Uncle Tom's Cabin," Washington Post, 13 December. Thanks to Hiram Hover for the tip.

Morton Keller's"None Dare Call It Conspiracy," OpinionJournal, 11 December, argues that the"Bush Lied" meme stands in a long history:"Roosevelt Lied,""Truman Lied,""Johnson Lied," etc. But conservatives are not giving the administration a free pass across the board. Stephen F. Hayes,"Down the Memory Hole," Weekly Standard, 19 December, points out that the Pentagon still refuses to release masses of unclassified documents recovered from Saddam Hussein's regime and that the program responsible for processing, translating, and disseminating the documents is scheduled to close down at the end of December. If so, they'll be beyond the reach of policy makers, journalists, and -- yes -- historians.

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Jim Williams - 12/14/2005

Hey, guys, Rodney Stark is a prominent sociologist of religion who applied his expertise on the spread of modern religious groups like the Mormons, the Hare Krishnas, and the Moonies to help provide an explanation of the "Rise of Christianity" in the Roman Empire. I have used this book in my Roman History class, it is one of the better books on the topic, and it is not from an explicit faith perspective. He has subsequently written other books on Christianity (perhaps he liked cashing the royalty checks from the Rise of Christianity; or he may have been "born again" as a result of his studies; I have not read the more recent books), but his work in the first book earned my respect. I will have to check out the website, but Stark is a reputable sociologist.

Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs - 12/14/2005

Rodney Stark says, "But by the seventh century Christianity had become the only major world religion to formulate specific theological opposition to slavery, and, by no later than the 11th century, the church had expelled the dreadful institution from Europe." Perhaps in Texas, where slavery was potentially abolished by the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, the mobility of the slaves is thought to make them essentially different from Russian serfs, whose emancipation began two years earlier. Even if one restricts "Europe" to that part situated to the west of Cold War political lines, Stark's 11th-century date ignores Switzerland, where servage in Vaud was abolished relatively recently at Aigle (1579), Ollon (1583), and the Ormonts (1624). I think these serfs belonged to the monastery of St. Maurice (no doubt a pioneer in seeing the capitalist advantage of having free labor). And in the early 18th century, coming up with a clever way to rid its city of trouble-making pacifists, as a wedding present, the Calvinist government of Zurich presented the Duke of Savoy with imprisoned Mennonite ministers whose fate was to be galley slaves.

Jonathan Dresner - 12/13/2005

The rediscovery of Greek wisdom in the Middle Ages is the true foundation of modern science.

I would say the "foundation of Western science." There's a strong scientific tradition in the Middle East (arguably influenced by the same Greeks, as well as other sources) which dies out around the same time that it's picking back up again in the West.

Grant W Jones - 12/13/2005

He means Christianity after the Compromise.

"Christian faith in reason [Dreck] was influenced by Greek philosophy."

Aristotle not Christ was the first scientist. The rediscovery of Greek wisdom in the Middle Ages is the true foundation of modern science. IMHO.

Jonathan T. Reynolds - 12/13/2005

GADZOOKS! Somebody needs to nominate Stark's article for the Bad History Carnival. That first paragraph is just staggering in its painfull wrongness... not just about religion, but also about European technology circa 1500. Oh, the horror.

Manan Ahmed - 12/13/2005

Someone oughta direct Mr. Stark to the library.

Brian Ulrich - 12/13/2005

So does Stark actually know anything about other religions? That bit about Christianity alone emphasizing reason as opposed to mysticism and intuition is a pretty remarkable (and indefensible) statement.

Jonathan Dresner - 12/13/2005

I read Wilentz's piece, and all I could think about was West Wing: sure, "serious literature", even pop lit, has shifted away from politics as a serious venue, but at the same time written literature has become considerably less central to popular engagement with issues large and small. The number of TV shows -- J.A.G., Picket Fences, The District, Commander In Chief, Over There, Simpsons, and the aforementioned Sorkin project, all just off the top of my head -- which have significant political allegorical structures or direct political issues alone would easily replace the "loss" he laments. Then there's the movies, from the Tom Clancy series (and in the midst of the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism, how is Clancy not a political writer?), Tears of the Sun, Manchurian Candidate... heck, someone who goes to the movies more than twice a year can finish the list.

I'm sorry, but any view of literary genre which can't transcend form is just ahistorical.

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