Testing Stark’s Thesis: Is Mormonism the First New World Religion since Islam?

In 1984, Rodney Stark startled the academic world with a claim that has kept sociologists and religion-watchers scratching their heads ever since. “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons,” he predicted, “will soon achieve a worldwide following comparable to that of Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and the other dominant world faiths.” Stark claimed that Mormonism has grown faster than any other new religion in American history. Between 1840 and 1980, it had averaged a growth rate of 44 percent per decade; in the four decades 1940 through 1980, growth zoomed to an astonishing 53 percent. If it maintained a 30 percent growth rate, Mormons would exceed 60 million by the year 2080; if 50 percent, then 265 million by 2080. “Today,” he declared, “they stand on the threshold of becoming the first major faith to appear on earth since the Prophet Mohammed rode out of the desert.”

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