Sunday 6 February 2011

Stark raving mad?

Rodney Stark's latest book, God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades, stared up at me from the display table at Dymocks yesterday. Stark is the acclaimed author of The Rise of Christianity, a tremendous little book that turns the lens of sociology on the early years of Christianity with intriguing results.

But his more recent books have teetered into the field of apologetics. (A couple of years ago I made some brief comments about Discovering God, which I've since purged from my bookshelves.) Before shelling out the bucks for Battalions - life is too short to read garbage, and dollars too hard to come by to waste - I decided to check it out first. The Crusades is an interesting topic, but should Stark be trusted to deal with it either competently or honestly?

The reviewer in Christian Century appears to think not: "In God’s Battalions, Stark provides an account of the Crusades perfectly fitted for the Fox News audience."

If that sounds like a cheap shot, take a look at the very detailed response by Tim O'Neil. An excerpt from the conclusion.
The few things that Stark manages to get right do not outweigh the fact that his central thesis is nonsense and that his whole argument is contrived, oversimplified and, in places, plain stupid and riddled with basic errors of fact.  Stark is not a historian and in this book it really shows.  He had some success with his first major book on the history of Christianity, The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History. At least in that book he stuck more or less to his discipline, sociology, and actually provided some useful insights for real historians from that perspective.  In more recent years, however, ...his books have become more popularist and, in the process, have veered into pseudo historical apologetics... In summary, this book is, despite a few valid points, largely tendentious crap.  Its author is a poor researcher who starts with his ideologically-driven conclusion and then cherry picks the evidence to back it up.  It is a polemical exercise in apologetics dressed up as a scholarly revision of myths and it deserves little but scorn.  Avoid it if you can, or read it with its biases firmly in mind if you must.  But take nothing it says at face value.

1 comment:

  1. Let me get this straight: Stark claims that the Islamic Arab Aborigine Pagan Barbarians were responsible for prompting the righteous indignation of the Catholics to protect the world by going to war in the Crusades against inferior, technologically deficient morons at the shallow end of the gene pool who stole what little civilization they had from peoples they had conquered?

    Thanks for the head's up -- I'll skip the tome even though it will cost less than $20 from including tax and shipping.

    I'll wait for the musical.