As a heads up this particular post is probably of interest to a fairly narrow audience. I have enjoyed reading some of Rodney Stark's work and I have talked to a number of fellow pastors who have also appreciated his work and have seen him quoted favorably in several places.
So I just thought I would pass something along to all of you who read Stark. C. John Sommerville has a few brief comments you might find helpful in the May 2009 issue of a periodical called Reconsiderations. Reconsiderations is put out by the Christian Study Center of Gainesville (a.k.a. the center of the intellectual and athletic universe). The link is to a .pdf file and the article by Sommerville starts on page 6. Here's the article:Considering the Work of Rodney Stark by C. John Sommerville.
And here is the Rodney Stark page at Amazon.
Stark is a sociologist and he comes at Christian history using the tools of sociology. Although Sommerville says he has a secure place in "high-brow" culture, his book Rise of Christianity is one that can be appreciated by non-specialists and non-sociologists. Just realize that he is not writing as a theologian or even as a devout believer. But he does write as one who is sympathetic to Christianity and that article by Sommerville may help you understand his perspective and his sympathies. I just noticed that Stark has a new book on the Crusades - hmm, sounds interesting.
Also, just a word about C. John Sommerville. Aside from the fact that he taught for years at the premier learning institution in America, he has written one of my definite top 10, all time favorite books. It is called How the News Makes us Dumb. I can't recommend that book highly enough, in fact I beg you, please, please, please, please, please read that book before you watch another news broadcast, read a paper or tell someone about something you read or heard on the news. His argument is not what you might think. The news is not bad because it is biased or because the journalists themselves are incompetent per se. The news is destructive to wisdom because it is daily. Again, I can't recommend that book too highly.
And, getting back to Stark and the sociology of religion, it looks like Sommerville himself has a new book out on similar themes, only dealing with more modern times - Religion in the National Agenda: What We Mean by Religious, Spiritual, Secular. This too sounds interesting.