A Theory of Religion

A Theory of Religion

A Theory of Religion

A Theory of Religion

Excerpt

Toronto Studies in Religion is a new book series published in association with the Centre for Religious Studies at the University of Toronto. It focuses attention on empirical, analytical and theoretical studies of religion within a broad naturalistic framework. It aims to publish original research in the historical, phenomenological and social scientific study of the world's religious traditions as well as new structural and theoretical interpretation of religion in general. Philosophical and even speculative approaches to understanding religious phenomena, carried within a generally naturalistic framework, are also welcome. The series will undertake translations of works that deserve a wider readership and that will encourage international scholarly debate. Comprehensive bibliographical studies, original dissertations, symposia of special merit and other appropriate projects will be given consideration.

A Theory of Religion is a book much overdue. Students of religion are, in general, theory-shy and prefer to deal with particular historical religious traditions at the descriptive and phenomenological levels. Such a 'nomothetic anxiety', as it has been called by some, does not characterize the work of R. Stark and W.S. Bainbridge. This book is not a polemic against those who disagree with theoretical/reductionist analysis of religion but is rather an example of what such an approach to religion can do, namely, explain rather than merely describe religion -- show how and why the phenomena of religion occur. Their theory is not, however, the mere articulation of one or two overarching generalizations about religion so characteristics of earlier periods of theorizing about religious phenomena. Rather, they formulate a sociological theory that shares the logical form and scope of theories in the natural sciences. They attempt here to construct a deductive form of theory that rests on a small set of basic principles -- axioms -- that are not statements about religion but from which descriptive statements about religious phenomena can be deducted. The axioms correctly describe human nature and the conditions of human existence and from them they derive the emergence of religion. Moreover, they show that they can in this fashion 'tie together' the vast wealth of insights and carefully collected and tested facts that have accumulated over the last several decades in this field of scholarly research. As they put it in the conclusion: "The purpose of this book has been to outline a theory that models the real world experienced by humans and that derives the main facts of religion from that model."

Although Stark and Bainbridge see the deductive approach as providing a maximum conceptual coherence in the outstanding of religion they are well . . .

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