Is Rodney Stark Correct on the Reasons for the West’s Economic Success? A Review Essay
In a number of his works but particularly in two books, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity led to Freedom, Capitalism and Western Success (2005) and How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity (2014), Rodney Stark makes the case that the most important, indeed decisive, factor for the rise of the West and its enduring supremacy, is Christianity. Stark asks a series of questions that have long been considered fundamental to our understanding of the modern world: Why was it that China, India, and Islam were backward by comparison with sixteenth century Europe? Why did alchemy develop into chemistry only in Europe? Why was it that for centuries Europeans were the only ones possessed of eyeglasses, chimneys, reliable clocks, heavy cavalry, or a system of music notation? Stark avers that while other world religions emphasized mystery and intuition, Christianity alone embraced reason and logic as the primary guide to religious truth. Stark further makes the claim that it is quite possible that Christianity remains an essential element in the globalization of modernity. Though there is compelling evidence for the Protestant work ethic as being a key determinant for the rise of Europe, as hypothesized by Weber, there are important objections to Christianity per se being a sine qua non for Western success. Keywords: Rodney Stark, Christianity, Weber, Protestant work ethic, Western success
Rabbi Myer and Dorothy Kripke Center, Creighton University
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