Last post related to Rodney Stark and Roger Finke’s Acts of Faith. In this book, they set out a spectrum along which they locate various religions/denominations in the United States. The scale is:
This spectrum is interesting because it nuances the usual liberal-mainline-conservative categories used in describing American religion. The ultraliberal category (perhaps unsurprisingly) consists for the authors of: Unitarian-Universalist, Unity Church, Unity, Spiritualist, Reform Judaism, and many New Age groups. Liberal, meanwhile, consists of: United Methodist, United Presbyterian, Episcopal, Congregationalist, United Church of Christ, and Disciples of Christ. Note that they also consider “the most liberal” wings of the UCC and Episcopalians to belong in the ultraliberal category, as well as (hearkening back to ancient times) some early Christian Gnostic groups.
According to Stark and Finke:
Groups in this niche typically have little intergenerational stability and must recruit new members each generation. In part this seems to be because they serve as a sort of halfway house on the route to irreligion. And in part it is because, like most of the offspring of the irreligious, their children so often opt for a relatively high-tension faith. These groups also suffer from low levels of participation and an oversupply of free-riders and therefore tend not to be durable.
It is worth noting here that Rodney Stark is a conservative-leaning Christian and personally repelled by highly liberal religion, and thus his writing on the subject tends to be more venomous than necessary (and also evidences errors and misapprehensions at times). But he is also an extremely accomplished sociologist, and thus his voice is worth considering thoughtfully.
Quotes are from pages 210-211 of Acts of Faith.