For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery

  • For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery

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Rodney Stark's provocative new book argues that, whether we like it or not, people acting for the glory of God have formed our modern culture. Continuing his project of identifying the widespread consequences of monotheism, Stark shows that the Christian conception of God resulted--almost inevitably and for the same reasons--in the Protestant Reformation, the rise of modern science, the European witch-hunts, and the Western abolition of slavery. In the process, he explains why Christian and Islamic images of God yielded such different cultural results, leading Christians but not Muslims to foster science, burn "witches," and denounce slavery.

With his usual clarity and skepticism toward the received wisdom, Stark finds the origins of these disparate phenomena within monotheistic religious organizations. Endemic in such organizations are pressures to maintain religious intensity, which lead to intense conflicts and schisms that have far-reaching social results.

Along the way, Stark debunks many commonly accepted ideas. He interprets the sixteenth-century flowering of science not as a sudden revolution that burst religious barriers, but as the normal, gradual, and direct outgrowth of medieval theology. He also shows that the very ideas about God that sustained the rise of science led also to intense witch-hunting by otherwise clear-headed Europeans, including some celebrated scientists. This conception of God likewise yielded the Christian denunciation of slavery as an abomination--and some of the fiercest witch-hunters were devoted participants in successful abolitionist movements on both sides of the Atlantic.

For the Glory of God is an engrossing narrative that accounts for the very different histories of the Christian and Muslim worlds. It fundamentally changes our understanding of religion's role in history and the forces behind much of what we point to as secular progress.

Amazon.com Review
For the Glory of God challenges numerous assumptions about how religion affected the course of history. As a professor of Sociology and Comparative Religions at the University of Washington, Rodney Stark (The Rise of Christianity) has a unique ability to write like a chatty social Scientist while delving into complicated theories on religion and history. Here he shows how beliefs in God--whether it was through the filter of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam--provoked and fueled human history. Of course many readers won’t dicker with his evidence that religious fervor influenced the witch hunts. But readers may be surprised by Stark’s assertion that the persecution of witches actually had more to do with the conflicts between the world’s major religions than the oppressive beliefs of fanatical clergy or sexist men. He also asserts that the same religious leaders who were the first to persecute witches were also the first to take a stand against slavery. And, contrary to many historical theories, Stark claims that religion may have been the driving force behind the emergence of modern science. Stark’s fascinating conclusions may rile conventional historians. Indeed, Stark was dismayed to discover how many historians "dismiss the role of religion in producing ‘good’ things such as the rise of science or the end of slavery, and the corresponding efforts to blame religion for practically everything ‘bad.’" While certainly weighed in defense of religious beliefs, especially Christianity, Stark offers a respectable and intelligent argument for church leaders, theologians, and maybe a few history buffs to ponder. --Gail Hudson