Chapter 6: Christianizing the Urban Empire: A Quantitative Approach

Christianity was an urban movement. Wayne Meeks, author of The First Urban Christians, wrote that “within a decade of the crucifixion of Jesus, the village culture of Palestine had been left far behind, and the Greco-Roman city became the dominant environment of the Christian movement.”

Other Factors

Hypothesis: the larger the city, the more likely it was to have a Christian church (which translated into how early it was likely to have a church, since eventually all major cities in the Roman empire had Christian churches). This is because the more urban the place, the higher the rates of unconventionality. In a larger city, it is easier to assemble a “critical mass” necessary to sustain a deviant subculture. At the time of early Christianity, it clearly qualified as a deviant religious movement which was at variance with prevailing religious norms.

Churches took hold sooner where the ratio of distance from Jerusalem to distance to Rome (tighter Roman control) was low (meaning low distance to Jerusalem and high distance to Rome).

A related point is that churches took hold sooner where there were synagogues, since many converts came from Judaism (continuity was important for conversion).

Stark “had hoped to create measures of social disorganization of these cities, especially factors that disrupt integration by reducing the strength of interpersonal attachments. It is axiomatic that conformity to the norms is the result of attachments – to the extent that we value our relationships with others, we will conform in order to retain their esteem. When people lack attachments, they have much greater freedom to deviate from the norms. In modern studies, unconventional behavior is strongly correlated with various measures of population turnover and instability. For example, where larger proportions of the US and Canadian populations are newcomers or have recently moved from one residence to another, rates of participation in unconventional religious activities are high.” He found that disorganization was high in all Roman cities, which allowed Christianity to grow more easily. This is the subject of the next chapter.


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