The formation of a new religion must occur almost daily somewhere in the world (Stark and Bainbridge 1985). Despite all that activity, it is exceedingly difficult to study the rise of new religions. Virtually all new faiths are born and die in obscurity, thus giving sociologists no opportunity to see what factors lead to success. And nearly all the others can be said to “rise” only in comparison with the utter failures, for they, too, pass into history as no more than a footnote, and that only because of their novelty. Indeed, it has been nearly one thousand four hundred years since a new religion has appeared that became a major world faith.
It is, of course, much too late to study how Islam arose in the seventh century, 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. Despite the many admirable efforts to deduce “histories” of these great movements by sociologizing upon shreds of texts (Scroggs 1980; Theissen 1982; Meeks 1983), 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.
Since the 1980s, I have suggested 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. Over the past 175 years, the Church of Jesus Christ has sustained the most rapid growth of any new religion in U.S. history. Indeed, it stands on the threshold of becoming the first major faith to appear on earth since the prophet Muhammed rode out of the desert (whereas the Latterday Saints gained strength initially by riding back into the desert). There
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Publication information: Book title: The Rise of Mormonism. Contributors: Rodney Stark - Author, Reid L. Neilson - Editor. Publisher: Columbia University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2005. Page number: 139.
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