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The Rise of Christianity. Rodney A. Stark. Growth of Christianity. Question: how did Christians grow from a tiny percentage of the Roman empire population to its majority by the year 350? Factors Conversion through social networks “primary” and “secondary conversions Birth rates

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The Rise of Christianity

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The Rise of Christianity

Rodney A. Stark


Growth of Christianity

  • Question: how did Christians grow from a tiny percentage of the Roman empire population to its majority by the year 350?

  • Factors

    • Conversion through social networks

      • “primary” and “secondary conversions

    • Birth rates

    • Urban networks

    • Epidemics

    • Role of women


Estimates of population (Roman empire = 60 million people)

From Stark, The Rise of Christianity, p. 7


The role of women in Christian growth

  • More women converted (primary)

    • Led husbands in secondary conversions

    • Could use their wealth (widows) for church

    • Christian women had higher status?

      • Women had more to gain in converting, men had more to lose?

  • Christians had higher fertility rates

    • Spoke out against infanticide; had more girls

    • Lower rate of (v. dangerous) abortions and use of birth control


What did early Christians do?

  • Meetings

    • Originally met in synagogues

    • After 70CE, met in house churches

    • By 300s, met in basilicas

  • Liturgy (work of the people; worship)

    • Met on Sundays

    • Had readings, “agape” meal (eucharist)

    • Needed to be baptized to participate fully

      • Big deal

      • Long preparation

      • Elaborate ritual


Practice, continued

  • Ministries

    • Presbyters/priests

      • Some groups allowed female presiders, many did not

    • Deacons: servants

      • Helped in liturgies

      • Served needs of the community, especially poor and widows

      • Could be male or female

    • Bishops

      • Head of church in a city

      • Main cities: Rome, Jerusalem, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria

      • Public symbol of continuity of apostle’s teachings

    • Itinerant preachers

      • Careful: some were frauds and freeloaders

    • Prophets


Developments

  • Growth

  • Move from margins to mainstream

    • Church community starts looking more mainstream

      • Ex: limitation of women’s ministries as deacons: can only work with women

  • More resources: bigger church buildings


For next time

  • Life of Antony

    • Why does he convert?

    • How is his story similar to Perpetua and Thecla’s? How different?

    • Why is he so focused on demons?

  • Chidester

    • How does monasticism contribute to the growth of Christianity?


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