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The Victory of Reason

Rodney Stark (Random House : September 26, 2006), 304 pages.

It is a commonplace to think of Christianity and rationalism as opposite historical and philosophical forces. In this stimulating and provocative study, Stark (The Rise of Christianity) demonstrates that elements within Christianity actually gave rise not only to visions of reason and progress but also to the evolution of capitalism. Stark contends that Christianity is a forward-looking religion, evincing faith in progress and in its followers’ abilities to understand God over time. Such a future-based rational theology has encouraged the development of technical and organizational advances, such as the monastic estates and universities of the Middle Ages. Stark contends that these developments transformed medieval political philosophy so that democracy developed and thrived in those states, such as northern Italy, that lacked despots and encouraged moral equality. Stark concludes by maintaining that Christianity continues to spread in places like Africa, China and Latin America because of its faith in progress, its rational theology and its emphasis on moral equality. While some historians are likely to question Stark’s conclusions, his deftly researched study will force them to imagine a new explanation for the rise of capitalism in Western society. ~ Publishers Weekly

Table of Contents

    • Introduction : reason and progress
    • Ch. 1 Blessings of rational theology 3
    • Ch. 2 Medieval progress : technical, cultural, and religious 33
    • Ch. 3 Tyranny and the “rebirth” of freedom 69
    • Ch. 4 Perfecting Italian capitalism 103
    • Ch. 5 Capitalism moves north 129
    • Ch. 6 “Catholic” anticapitalism : Spanish and French despotism 161
    • Ch. 7 Feudalism and capitalism in the new world 195
    • Conclusion : globalization and modernity 233