Thursday, July 31, 2008

Issues in Pagan-Christian Dialogue: Interview with Jason Pitzl-Waters

One of the people I have been fortunate to interact with on the Internet through interreligious dialogue of sorts is Jason Pitzl-Waters (pictured at left). Jason is behind The Wildhunt blog, one that I frequent as I seek to understand and interact with Pagans. He is currently reading through Philip Johnson and Gus diZerega's Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue (Lion, 2008) in preparation for a book review. Jason will also be posting interviews with these authors on his blog in the near future. I thought it would be good for my readers to hear Jason's thoughts on issues of common interest to Pagans and Christians, and he graciously consented to this interview.

Morehead's Musings: What is your own Pagan pathway and experience that informs your perspective on Pagan-Christian dialogue?

Jason Pitzl-Waters: I consider myself a modern Pagan and polytheist. More precisely, I come from a personal and communal practice of religious Witchcraft. I was raised in a thoroughly secular environment, and my interactions with Christian religiosity were few and far between. So when I came to modern or "neo" Paganism, it was with a "clean slate", and generally free from the hurt and anger some Pagans have from their own experiences with/within Christian religion. Today as an "out" Pagan blogger and writer, I report regularly on Christian-Pagan relations both good and bad, and I try to keep up on trends within Christian communities that may have an impact on us.

Morehead's Musings: You have read through a portion of Beyond the Burning Times with an eye toward writing a review for your blog. What are your initial perceptions of the book?

Jason Pitzl-Waters: I think the book is certainly admirable, and I'm very pleased that Gus diZerega was chosen to represent a Pagan perspective and treated as an equal. His history of interfaith work, and deep understanding of Pagan theologies, makes him a perfect representative. Obviously, as a Pagan, I agree far more often with Gus than I do with Philip, but that is to be expected. I appreciated Philip Johnson's calm and even-handed responses to Gus, and his love-centered view of the gospels. I do think there were a few instances where each"talked past" the other. A normal hazard of such dialogs I suspect. I think I can whole-heartedly state that this is the best book of its kind, and should be read by as many Pagans and Christians as possible. It represents a quantum leap forward in Pagan-Christian relations.

Morehead's Musings: You participate in a reciprocal link exchange with a handful of Christian bloggers. Why do you have a personal interest in dialogue between these religious communities, and what is it about the few links on your site that makes them worthwhile as conversation partners?

Jason Pitzl-Waters: I'm a big believer that Pagans shouldn't isolate themselves. While we are growing quickly, we are still a tiny, and often misunderstood, minority. What Christians do and think can have serious ramifications on us, and we would be foolish to ignore that. Not to mention the fact that the million-plus Pagans in America alone have millions of Christian relatives, friends, and co-workers. A rational and peaceful dialog is the only way forward from the tensions that produce "Satanic Panics", bitter custody fights, lost jobs, broken friendships, and isolated families. We don't have to agree, but we do need to find away to get along. The Christian bloggers I link to represent, I feel, a step forward in achieving that dialog. They reject the fear-mongering and misinformation of the "Religious Right" and certain conservative evangelical communities, and are looking towards better communication.

Morehead's Musings: In our exchanges, and from what I've read on your blog, you seem to find those of us Christians who would identify ourselves as "missional" as being a step above those which engage in heresy frameworks, but you still have some concerns. What are some of the issues that need to be part of the Pagan-Christian dialogue process from the Pagan perspective?

Jason Pitzl-Waters: If Pagan dialogs with "missional" Christians are going to bear fruit, we'll have to find a way to communicate despite some core philosophical and theological differences. A central issue points towards the whole notion of "missional" Christians, that is, a Christian engaging in the "Great Commission" to evangelize. The fact that many of the willing missional dialogers are also working on"culturally sensitive" ways in which to evangelize us presents a quandary. Why should we trust you? Won't your keen insights help fuel the larger Christian Mission movement? One that yearns for the "total evangelization of the world" and doesn't necessarily share the"hands-off" (incarnational) methods of the Christians we have grown to trust? I truly appreciate that missional Christians have disavowed the heresy framework, but these remaining tensions need to be addressed, and a satisfying answer found before we can move to the next step of a more widespread engagement.

Morehead's Musings: Two of our greatest challenges seem to be building a sense of trust, and at the opposite end of the spectrum, dealing with the various factors and experiences that have led to distrust and even animosity between members of our religious communities. How do you see us taking small steps to address these challenges?

Jason Pitzl-Waters: The building of trust is starting to happen, but the Pagan movement(s) (and the individual religions that exist under that umbrella) needs to be treated as valid, fulfilling, and ethical form of religious expression. While global Christianity has established various forms of respectful dialog with other non-Christian religions, modern/contemporary Paganism has long been saddled with insulting assumptions from a variety of Christian traditions. From the extremists who see us as demon-haunted dupes of Satan, to those who perceive Paganism as a gentle form of mental illness (a personality "quirk") that can be cured with enough love and gentle correction. Perhaps some of this comes from Gus diZerega's assertion that we reopen "questions many religious people had long regarded as settled". That Paganism, the once-great enemy of Christendom, was supposed to be a poetic memory, a defeated enemy, not a revived and growing set of faiths.

Further, I would like to make some smaller points to the larger missional audience. First, the testimony of Pagans (and various occultists, New Agers, and metaphysical practitioners) who have embraced Christ do not move us. We don't exist in a binary religious world where if one religion is true all others must be false, so appeals which attempt to use former insiders (or alleged insiders) are at best ineffectual, and at worst insulting. Secondly, a good way to avoid animosity or distrust is to ditch triumphalist language. I have seen Pagans referred to in missional literature as "lost", "unreached", and "opportunities". This is dehumanizing, and reinforces the idea that we are merely targets instead of equals. Third, stop thinking that we haven't embraced the gospel because it hasn't been "contextualized" properly to our community. Most of us are extremely well-read and have had numerous experiences (both positive and negative) with the Christian tradition, we understand the gospel message, we just happen to reject it as an exclusive truth (which according to recent Pew data is a growing attitude). Fourth, and finally, while many Christians think that Christianity is unique because "Christ was real", this fact overlooks the thousands of years of pre-Christian reality and tradition. We too have saviors, heroes, martyrs, miracle workers, saints, and divine intermediaries, and many of them are just as "real" to us as Jesus was. You are certainly welcome to believe that your Jesus holds the singular truth and the best evidence, but we don't necessarily believe that.

Morehead's Musings: What would you like to see as a few of the positive and ongoing outcomes as a result of Beyond the Burning Times?

Jason Pitzl-Waters: Simply put, I would like to see more dialogs like this one. The more we communicate on equal footing, the better our chances of fostering real tolerance and understanding.

Morehead's Musings: You and I have both suggested that fantasy films might make for an interesting venue for interreligious dialogue between Pagans and Christians. Any thoughts on how we might put a film and dialogue festival like this together? And what other venues might be pursued to bring our two communities together?

Jason Pitzl-Watters: I do think that fantasy films can be a useful dialog-starter. How to start a festival? Perhaps the best way to start is for Christians (or a Christian-Pagan dialog group) to insert themselves into the larger Pagan world. Propose panels at conventions and festivals, and build an audience. This is something that is going to have to built from the ground-up and will no doubt experience a few false-starts in the process. Then, once you have enough support and trust established, move to independent gatherings. At least that is how I would do it! Beyond the excellent idea to use films to spark conversation, I would also encourage Christian bloggers to interact more with the Pagan blogosphere. My own blog, The Wild Hunt, is a good place to start. I think you'll find that many of us are quite open to (respectful) participation and feedback from Christians. Heck, some of our best friends are Christian!

Morehead's Musings: Jason, thanks again for sharing your thoughts and raising some issues for reflection and practice. I'll follow up on your suggestion on a film and dialogue panel within a Pagan festival if I can get my foot in the door and we'll see what develops. And your thoughts for the missional Christian community will certainly be the subject of discussion. Thanks again for the interview.

Washington Times: McCain Would Divide Evangelical Vote with Mormon Romney as VP

The lastest "Weekly Update" from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life included a link to an interesting article from The Washington Times. It is titled "Evangelicals warn against Romney on ticket." The article states in part:

Prominent evangelical leaders are warning Sen. John McCain against picking former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as his running mate, saying their troops will abandon the Republican ticket on Election Day if that happens.

They say Mr. Romney lacks trust on issues such as outlawing abortion and opposing same-sex marriage and because he is a Mormon. Opposition is particularly powerful among those who supported former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in the Republican presidential primaries earlier this year.

"McCain and Romney would be like oil and water," said evangelical novelist Tim LaHaye, who supported Mr. Huckabee. "We aren't against Mormonism, but Romney is not a thoroughgoing evangelical and his flip-flopping on issues is understandable in a liberal state like Massachusetts, but our people won't understand that."

See the two-part article at the link above for further quotes and discussion of this topic.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Play, Spirit and Character

Last night I received the latest electronic newsletter from Speaking of Faith, a program on public radio produced by American Public Media. It is a program that I have found very helpful from time to time as it touches on various topics related to religion and spirituality. The current program is titled "Play, Spirit, and Character," and if you're wondering why the topic of play is being explored by a program dealing with religion, then like many, you suffer from a lack of appreciation for what may be one of the most significant theological topics for the twenty-first century.

This program involves an interview with Dr. Stuart Brown, director of the National Institute of Play, and in this discussion Brown "says that pleasurable, purposeless activity prevents violence and promotes trust, empathy, and adaptability to life's complication. He promotes cutting-edge science on human play, and draws on a rich universe of study of intelligent social animals."

Play is becoming an increasingly significant facet of life in those parts of the world where economic factors allow it to be so. This is particularly the case with the continued popularity of professional sports, and a new dimension of play has arisen with the increasing numbers of people spending time in various virtual worlds in cyberspace, such as Lineage, Gaia Online or Second Life. In his book Exodus to the Virtual World: How Online Fun is Changing Reality (Palgrave MacMillan, 2007), Edward Castronova believes a "fun revolution" is underway that will change the way in which we behave in the "real world." He says that, "An understanding of fun will become integral to understanding why the real world is losing people [to virtual worlds], and what to do about it."

But as interesting as this may sound from the perspectives of psychology, medicine, anthropology, and sociology, the reader may be struggling with how this is understood to have any theological significance. If you're having trouble connecting the dots you're not alone. During my research for my graduate thesis on Burning Man Festival, as I considered the significance of play theology to an understanding and appreciation of this alternative cultural event, I found very few theologians who had explored the topic. A few had engaged it in connection with the counterculture of the 1960s, but with the counterculture's morphing and absorption into other aspects of the mainstream culture theologians seemed to have lost the impetus to consider play. Robert Johnston, now at Fuller Theological Seminary, is one exception, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on the topic, which was later modified and published in book form as The Christian at Play (Eerdmans, 1983), but beyond this, so far as my research has been able to determine, theologians, particularly of the Protestant persuasion, have tended to neglect play as a theological topic worthy of reflection and experimentation.

This is curious given the prevalence and significance of play in human experience. It might naturally be assumed that play is involved in an expression of the imago Dei. Beyond this, in Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis refers to moments of play during childhood that he recognized as experiences of transcendence that provided windows into the Divine. Lewis transferred this notion to his storytelling which he believed included a mythical dimension, and in this way the reading of Lewis's stories could function as vehicles for experiencing the Sacred Other. Another significance thinker, the noted sociologist Peter Berger, in the little classic A Rumor of Angels, argued that play involved should be understood as one of several "signals of transcendence." For Berger, this was a "phenomena that are to be found within the domain of our 'natural' reality but that appear to point beyond that reality."

Given the centrality of play to human experience, and the millions of people seeking play as an increasingly important part of their lives (as evidenced by the growing popularity of virtual worlds and alternative cultural events like Burning Man), perhaps play needs to find a place on the agenda for a practical theology of the twenty-first century.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Mormonism and Science Fiction

Religion has a long history of association with various forms of speculative fiction, however defined, whether science fiction, fantasy, or horror. In the past while doing some research on this topic I was surprised to find a listing at of the various faith backgrounds of authors of science fiction, and I was even more surprised to find a large number of Mormons involved in this genre. Marny Parkin has produced a Bibliography of Mormon Speculative Fiction that she maintains with her husband, Scott, who is also a Latter-day Saint and science fiction writer as well. Both are actively involved in the BYU Symposium on Science Fiction and Fantasy, also known as the Life, the Universe, and Everything symposium.

Scott and Marny recently agreed to an interview on Mormonism and science fiction where we had an opportunity to explore this interesting intersection of ideas.

Morehead’s Musings: I’d like to begin personally in terms of whatever personal details you’d like to share as to how you came to be interested in the connection between Mormon writers and speculative fiction?

Marny Parkin: Scott is a Mormon science fiction writer and I like to read science fiction and when we originally got together I was working on BYU Studies, where we did a bibliography once a year of all the Mormon-related works that had come out that year. I realized as I was editing that we didn’t list any of the science fiction writers that I knew about. That’s where I got the seed for this in that I knew all these people that I needed to put in so I started to gather that up for the BYU Studies bibliography. Then I thought this would be of interest at least to the science fiction community of Brigham Young University if not the larger Mormon community. So I decided to pull all those together and I finally able to put together a website. I started on it in 1992 or 1993.

Scott Parkin: As far as the website and bibliography, that summarizes it. As far as Mormonism and general interest in science fiction, my story is a little different. We met at BYU in connection with the Leading Edge magazine but I was very interested in writing science fiction. I joined the magazine as research to figure out what editors are looking for, and I discovered a burgeoning writing community operating at and near BYU. In Mormonism we believe in building communities and helping each other grow. It’s a little unusual in that we have a very tight-knit science fiction community here in Utah.

Morehead’s Musings: How does the number of Mormons involved in science fiction compare with those from other religions?

Marny Parkin: The percentage may a little bit higher for Mormons although I’m not sure. There is a website at that catalogs this and it is run by a Mormon as well. This notes a large number of Catholics, Jews, evangelicals, and a large number of Latter-day Saints. There seems to be a fair number of Latter-day Saints involved.

Scott Parkin: And I would argue that perhaps there aren’t any more Mormons writing, reading or involved in science fiction but what you find is that those who self-identify are more aggressive in identifying themselves as Mormon in connection with their work. There may be more lapsed Catholics who don’t necessarily consider their Catholicism as an essential aspect of their identity as a writer, but a lot of Mormons who do write find their “Mormon-ness” is so important to the way they do storytelling or the worldview they bring to it that this self-identification is much stronger and perhaps higher than other religious affiliations.

If you look at the sciences, Mormons are disproportionately represented as scientists, but what’s more intriguing is that more successful scientists are LDS proportionate to the total than other representatives of religion that are active in their faith. I think that carries through here.

Morehead’s Musings: For those who may not be familiar with the connection between Mormonism and science fiction, who are some of the significant Mormon sci fi writers?

Marny Parkin: Probably the most significant and obvious is Orson Scott Card. Tracy Hickman is another. Brandon Sanderson. Shannon Hale. Stephenie Meyer. David Farland. Those are probably the biggest names right now that people would recognize, though most of them write fantasy.

Scott Parkin: Looking back into more classic science fiction, there’s a golden age writer named Raymond F. Jones, who was never a huge writer but he published every year for about thirty years. Zenna Henderson was raised Mormon but was nonpracticing after her marriage.

Marny Parkin: The other big name that people would recognize is Glenn Larson and his work with the original Battlestar Galactica series in the 1970s.

Scott Parkin: David Howard, who was the writer of Galaxy Quest.

Marny Parkin: Another might be Samuel Taylor, who wrote the stories the Flubber movies were based on.

Morehead’s Musings: It’s interesting to me to see the affinities between some religious traditions and certain genres of literature and film. For example, Neo-Pagans seem to have a connection to fantasy and horror, and it seems as if there is a strong connection between Mormonism and science fiction. Would you have any feel for why there is this strong connection? What is it about the Mormon faith that helps it come together so nicely with science fiction?

Scott Parkin: I think there’s a whole series of reasons. At its base, Mormons believe there is pretty much a rational basis for everything, including our relationship to God. That things can be understood. So the idea that there are rational explanations and that it’s okay to explore those explanations is one of the reasons why the rigors of science fiction appeals to so many Mormons.

For example, Mormons have a view that science is an explanation of the way God gets things done. Religion answers the question “Why?” and science answers the question “How?” and they are complementary disciplines. So that sense of rationalism within the LDS theological construct brings the religious and speculative science together.

When you look at some of the specific aspects of LDS theology, the idea that God organized matter in creation rather than creation ex nihilo (out of nothing), then God approached nature as an engineer or scientist and organized according to natural principles—it was the application of science and knowledge.

One of the great distinctions between Mormons and other kinds of Christians is their concept of God. When you look at classic science fiction one of the great examples is Arthur C. Clarke, one of the great “unbaptized Mormons.” In his novels he tried to debunk traditional concepts of Christianity by providing rational explanations. So in 2001: A Space Odyssey he says, any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic. What you have is a technologically advanced race who seems wondrous and godlike to us. In the story, Frank Poole ends up evolving (with direct assistance) into something more. That’s not precisely a statement of Mormon belief, but it is resonant with the idea that we can become more than we are in an almost Humanistic sort of way. Where Clarke essentially offered the idea that God is nothing more than a (technologically) super-evolved man, Mormonism suggests that, among other things, God is also a (technologically and morally) super-evolved man.

It’s directly in keeping with the Mormon idea that we exists specifically to gain experiences and to become more than we are, to evolve to a more advanced form—potentially even to become like God. In fact, man is a god in embryo deciding whether to take the challenge. That is the great heresy of Mormonism, this idea that Man is a less refined, pre-evolved potential god whose God-given (and facilitated) purpose is to continue that evolution. That’s what makes us essentially intolerable to other Christian denominations. That’s not esoterica, that’s core doctrine. That’s heading down a path away from your question, but it’s also part of why science fiction as a storytelling medium doesn’t bother Mormons.

We also believe that God created other worlds and there are intelligent beings on those worlds, and they know him as God. That idea is such a science fictional concept at its core that it presents another affinity between Mormonism and SF.

Morehead’s Musings: What does science fiction provide as resource material for Mormon writers, and what does Mormonism contribute to the field of science fiction?

Scott Parkin: Taking the second question first, Mormons have always had this sense of alienation, of being on the margins of society, they have a sense of what it means to be isolated, to not be understood by the broader culture, and this gives us a bit of an alien mindset. One of the themes in science fiction is the interaction of different cultures. So Mormons draw upon their own experience of being an alien culture and interacting with the mainstream culture. Their experiences can inform their writing and contribute that to the science fiction genre.

One of the two main kinds of science fiction is the hard sf that speculates on the “how” of things, taking a scientific premise and exploring what might be true as a result. For example, how might life have evolved on a planet with extraordinarily heavy gravity? You then speculate on that question and generate stories that result from it. This idea that we can and should explore the hows and whys means that we’re not afraid to touch certain issues. One of the questions we’re not afraid to address is how do we interact with others? This is the core of most of Scott Card’s science fiction. How do we as humans interact with each other, with other humans of different nationalities, of other races, of other forms, or with different social foundations? He develops this in his Ender’s Game books.

Also, Mormons, like Jews, are very much a storytelling people. We learn lessons from stories. So the idea that we would construct stories of any sort is inherent in our culture, and since science is intriguing and informative and educational and opens up opportunities to explore metaphor, that makes science fiction an interesting genre.

To address the first question, science fiction, like any other genre, provides us with an opportunity to create a symbol to talk about issues that if we were to go directly at the question in more concrete terms, would be off-putting. But if you offer the same questions or issues and put them in the context of aliens and science fiction, it creates a level of abstraction or separation that allows us to explore the underlying concepts. It creates a freedom and safe ground for the underlying issues to be explored. As a tool it gives us freedom to deal with religious, social, and ethical questions without the challenges posed in traditional forms of religious dialogue.

Morehead’s Musings: Which leads perfectly into my last question. I see great potential in film in these genres to bring together people for exploration, dialogue, and understanding. As you’ve already touched on, one of the great things about science fiction is that it provides us the distance to look at controversial topics that can be explored in safer ways. What do you think about the potential for science fiction films to be used in conferences or symposia that bring together Christians who are fans of speculative fiction, Latter-day Saints who are fans also, to enjoy these things together, and this medium then becomes a safer venue for us to engage each other as religious cultures?

Scott Parkin: I think you just stated the absolute value and potential of it. We’re able to get away from our individual preconceptions and find neutral vectors for exploring deeper thoughts related to complex issues. We find that at its base, we are vastly more compatible with the kinds of questions that concern us. If we can come together with a neutral venue like science fiction and film and storytelling in general as that vector, I think it facilitates an enormous opportunity to penetrate the social and cultural noise that inevitably surrounds all of us and safely address the real, core questions that all of us chew on in our private moments.

Morehead’s Musings: I am very interested in this possibility and I’d like to keep in touch to explore it with you. I know that you are involved with the BYU Symposium on Science Fiction and Fantasy, and perhaps this might become a part of that gathering to provide another expression of exploration and dialogue as an extension of other forms of dialogue already going on. Or perhaps we could work together to organize a separate conference devoted to this endeavor.

Marny and Scott, thank you so much for taking the time to discuss this topic. I look forward to our developing relationship and the possibilities presented for dialogue by science fiction and fantasy film in Utah.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Rodney Stark: Important Sociological Considerations in The Rise of Mormonism

I have seen Rodney Stark's essays referenced in a number of discussions of sociological considerations related to the growth of Mormonism, but only recently did I finally secure the volume that represents Stark's work as an edited collection of essays. During my final semester of study at Salt Lake Theological Seminary, Terry Muck came out to lead an intensive course on world religious cultures, and one of his public lectures drew upon Stark's work in The Rise of Mormonism, edited by Reid L. Neilson (Columbia University Press, 2005). This lecture was the final experience that led to my eventual purchase of this helpful volume.

Stark's work on Mormonism is perhaps best known for his claim that Mormonism will reach 267 million members by 2080. Reactions to Stark's projections have been mixed, and have included a large dose of skepticism. Skeptics include those like Gerald McDermott, an evangelical scholar, who has written critically of Mormonisms ability to reach Stark's projected number in membership.

But it would be a mistake to reject or embrace Stark's scholarship merely because of his projections on Mormon growth. This collection of essays represents a wealth of social scientific data for reflection by students of Mormonism, new religious movements, sociology of religion, and missiology. In my view, Stark's book is most helpful for evangelicals as theology dialogues with sociology. This results in an understanding of Mormonism and which provides implications for missiology as Stark discusses an alternative understanding for revelations and revelators, the significance of social networks for the spread of religious movements, and the concept of religious capital.

Revelations and Revelators - Stark devotes a chapter to the consideration of how revelations are received by religious leaders, and alternative conceptions of the revelators themselves. Typically two models dominate the literature that attempts to account for revelation, including psychopathology (the notion that the revelators are mentally ill), or the entrepreneur model (wherein the revelator is pursuing conscious fraud for gains in a variety of areas through the creation of a new religion). The third approach is that of subcultural-evolution wherein a revelation grows slowly and is accepted by a religious group over time. In his research of new and world religions, including Islam, Christianity, and Mormonism, Stark finds these options inadequate to account for new revelations and so he proposes a different theory. His point of departure within Mormonism for this is Spencer W. Kimball's 1978 revelation concerning blacks and the priesthood. As Stark writes about this process, "Kimball spoke only of the many hours he spent in the 'upper room of the temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance,' not of voices from beyond, burning bushes, or apparitions. He apparently received his revelation by becoming convinced of God's will in the matter." He then goes on to conclude that "If President Kimball's experience can be considered revelation, then it is entirely clear that normal people can, through entirely normal means, believe they communicate with the divine." This theory is related to how the revelator is viewed, and seems to provide alternatives here as well beyond that of psychopathology and fraudulent entrepreneur. Stark's hypothesis will be a difficult pill to swallow for evangelicals used to thinking in either/or theological categories of true vs. false revelations and prophets, rather than sociological categories that attempt to explain data about religious movements. But it might prove helpful to bring theology into dialogue with sociology of religion as twin sources of legitimate knowledge ain order to uncover possibilities for new perspectives on these topics.

Centrality of Social Networks - One of the more interesting, and crucial aspects of Stark's study to the understanding of the growth of Mormonism, and other religious movements, is his discussion of the centrality of social networks to the faith. Stark looks at the early history of Mormonism and its continued expansion to point out that "social networks make religious beliefs plausible." In relation to doctrine and beliefs, he goes on to state that while doctrines are important, "conversion seldom is about seeking or embracing an ideology; it is about bringing one's religious behavior into alignment with that of one's friends and family members." Stark also discusses the relationship between social networks and doctrine and notes that, "Doctrine matters a great deal when it comes to generating and sustaining commitment and thus, among other things in retaining converts and reaffiliates." However, he goes on to stress that it is the "interpersonal bonds [that] are fundamental support for recruitment. This pattern is not peculiar to Latter-day Saints; it is how all successful movements spread."

While much is made of Mormonism's large volunteer missionary force, Stark points toward research that indicates that "cold calls" and visits by missionaries result in a very low percentage of baptized converts to the faith. It is relationships and connections to Mormonism's various social networks which are then connected to missionary meetings that results in the greatest successes for the LDS Church. In addition, contrary to impressions by many evangelicals, Stark states that, "[r]esearch confirms that converts overwhelmingly are recruited from the ranks of those lacking a prior religious commitment or having only a nominal connection to a religious group." These aspects of his research serve first as a reminder to evangelicals of the significance of social networks and relationships to the communication of faith, and second that perhaps other demographic segments make up the largest pool for potential converts beyond the populations of Protestant churches.

Religious Capital - The final aspect of Stark's study that I found most intriguing is the notion of religious capital. Stark defines this as incorporating two aspects, culture and emotions, and he sets it forth in the following proposition: "Religious capital consists of the degree of master of and attachment to a particular religious culture." Over time people invest more and more of themselves into a religious culture and thus have a high level of religious capital that results. This has ramifications for continued involvement in a given religious culture which leads to two additional propositions: First, "In making religious choices, people will attempt to conserve their religious capital;" and second, "The greater their religious capital, the less likely people are to either reaffiliate or convert." The notion of religious capital, like the other concepts considered above, seems rife with missiological implications. In light of the notion of religious capital evangelicals might be thinking about how their engagement with Latter-day Saints might seek to retain the highest level possible of religious capital as it is invested from one religious community to another.

Conclusion - In the concluding chapter of Stark's volume he sums up with the following:
By applying my general theoretical model of why religious movements succeed to the case of Mormonism, it is easy to understand why the Church of Jesus Christ continues to outpace other American religions, both at home and abroad. Clearly, Mormonism satisfies each of the ten elements of my larger theory, both qualitatively and quantitatively. The Latter-day Saints often retain cultural continuity with the conventional faiths of the societies in which they seek converts; their doctrines are nonempirical; they maintain a medium level of tension with their surrounding environment; they have legitimate leaders with adequate authority to be effective; they generate a highly motivated, volunteer religious labor force, including many willing to proselytize; they maintain a level of fertility sufficient to offset member mortality; they compete against weak, local, conventional religious organizations within a relatively unregulated religious economy; they sustain strong internal attachments while remaining an open social network, able to maintain and form ties to outsiders; they maintain sufficient tension with their environment - they remain sufficiently strict; and they socialize their young sufficiently well as to minimize both defection and the appeal of reduced strictness. How could they not succeed?
From whatever perspective Mormonism is studied it is not complete until it incorporates Stark's body of research. This volume will reward the effort put into its reading and reflection.