Theories of Spreading Christianity and Islam

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The first stage of Wallace’s revitalization movement is the existence of a steady state. In terms of Jesus, Judea and Galilee not necessarily experiencing a steady state. After the death of Herod, sectarianism and debates about authority were creating division during the early years of Roman Rule in Judea. Individual stress, during the early years of the common era, was caused by political changes such as the appointment of an unpopular high priest and protests against Archelaus rule. For Jesus’ movement, the stage of cultural distortion can be seen with the coming of many prophetic figures who may or may not have been messiahs. Many of these prophetic figures, including Jesus, wanted to purify the Temple of Jerusalem which they thought was corrupted.

According to the New Testament, an example of this is when Jesus pushed the money changers out of the temple and explained that the temple should be a house of prayer. Wallace’s period of revitalization is a great archetype for Jesus because parts of his life and teachings can be seen in all five aspects of this archetype. In terms of mazeway reformulation, the gospel’s state that Jesus’ parents, Joseph and Mary, received visions from an angel that said that the virgin Mary was going to give birth to Jesus (Luke 1: 28-38, Matthew 1: 20-24).

Additionally, according to the Jesus movements that constructed and transmitted the texts of the Gospels, Jesus himself had visions during his baptism, where he heard voices coming from heaven saying, “You are my son, the Beloved; With you I am well-pleased” (Luke 3:22). In terms of communication and organization, Jesus gathers the twelve disciples and begins preaching and spreading the good news. The gospels themselves were also a powerful mechanism of communication that contributed to the spread of Christianity.

Jesus is at the top of the hierarchy and is given the highest Christology because he is referred to as the “Son of God” and “Son of Man.” Jesus’ movement did encounter resistance from the Pharisees and Jesus did rebuke their practice of prioritizing spreading their religion over preaching the truth. In terms of cultural revitalization, the original society in the 1st c. CE Judea did not experience cultural revitalization, which is a blow to Wallace’s theory. Cultural revitalization does eventually occur, but not until 4th CE Constantinople. One can understand why Wallace claimed that Christianity is a revitalization movement since it matches up with his theory so well.

Now, I will examine whether Mani and Manichaeism fit as nicely into Wallace’s framework. In my analysis of Mani, I will begin with the period of revitalization, because there was not an abundant amount of stress experienced by individuals when Mani was born in the year 216, and there was not a noticeable period of increasing individual stress. Mani experiences hallucinations at ages twelve and twenty-four when he is visited by his heavenly twin who convinces him to begin preaching the true message of Jesus. In terms of communication, Mani tries to convince Shapur I to convert to Manichaeism with the writing of the Shabuhragan, which Mani wrote in Middle Persian.

Mani tries to communicate his religion to others by writing six major works in Syriac in which he promised salvation to followers of his teachings, although scholars believe that these writings were more likely written by his followers. Mani’s movement faced heavy resistance from the Sassanian Empire and Roman Empire. Additionally, Mani was imprisoned and tortured by Bahram I and died in jail after twenty-six days. Ultimately, Mani’s teachings and his religion of Manichaeism did not achieve cultural transformation because his teachings never spread far enough due to persecution and minimal political support. Additionally, many of the texts of Manichaeism were seized and destroyed shortly after Mani’s death, so it was difficult for Mani’s legacy to continue after his death in 276 CE.

Now I will apply Wallace’s theory to Muhammad and the religious movement that he sparked. Despite tribal decentralization in Arabia, there was still a stable state when Muhammad was born in terms of religious organization. There was increased individual stress caused by the dissatisfaction with Arabian culture. For Muhammad, the five stages of revitalization are all apparent. Muhammad experienced visions beginning at the age of forty, which became the basis of the Qur’an and Islamic teachings.

In terms of communication and organization, Muhammad preaches revelations to the people and gains disciples who begin spreading the word of Muhammad. Muhammad was a prophet who gained followers and believers over time. Muhammad assembled a large group of believers and led them in Hijrah. When the pagans in Mecca became hostile with Muhammad and his followers, Muhammad had to adapt and fled to Medina. There was a new steady state because of the emergence of the Muslim Caliphates shortly after Muhammad’s death and the establishment of Islam in Mecca. Similarly to Christianity, since the coming of Islam seemed to fit pretty well into Wallace’s framework, it makes sense that Wallace considers Islam to be an example of a revitalization movement.

I will now shift to focusing on Wilson’s typologies and analyze how they can be used to examine the three prophetic figures and their movements, beginning with Jesus. There are aspects of the conversionist response in all three prophets. For Jesus, this can be seen by examining Jesus’ teachings. In multiple instances Jesus explained that humans can change the way they act to get to heaven, such as how you should “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). There is also an aspect of the thaumaturgical typology because Jesus performed many miracles while teaching and spreading God’s word.

Additionally, while this event cannot be confirmed by historians, Jesus’ resurrection proves that life after death is an element of salvation and you will be relieved from all of the stressors of life once you reach heaven, according to the followers of Jesus. There is also an aspect of the revolutionist response in the character of Jesus’ teachings and movements because of eschatological elements such as the second coming of Jesus and the final judgement. Jesus was not concerned with destroying the world, so the reformist and utopianist typologies do not necessarily apply. Jesus also believed that evil could be changed so manipulationist does not apply. In the case of Jesus, Wilson’s typologies act as a sort of blanket statement to help characterize Jesus’ movement, but do not really help differentiate it from other religions, such as Islam and Manichaeism.

Wilson’s typologies can also be used to analyze Mani and Manichaeism. Like Jesus, Mani’s teachings involved the use of the conversionist typology. Mani believed that salvation was possible if people changed the way they acted and became less corrupt. There is also a reformist aspect to Mani. For example, Mani’s revelations at ages twelve and twenty-four where he was called to preach the true message of Jesus can be used to prove this typology, because it was divine inspiration that was the source of his teachings and led to the creation of Manichaeism. There are also aspects of the thaumaturgical response because God performs miracles to ensure salvation such as removing light from the world and returning it to the world of light, where it belongs, according to Manichaean traditions. Since Mani’s movement can be placed into multiple different typologies, there is not one single defining typology of Manichaeism, which can be seen as a potential flaw in Wilson’s theory.

Finally, Wilson’s typologies can also be used to characterize Muhammad and his religious movement. The thaumaturgical response can be seen when analyzing the Qur’an. There are multiple miracles such as the splitting of the moon that were the result of divine intervention. Similarly to Christianity and Manichaeism, Islam features aspects of the conversionist typology. This can be seen in Muhammad’s preaching of self-change and the idea of leading by example and that it is God’s will for people to change. There are also aspects of the revolutionist response because of Muhammad’s constant mentions of the coming day of judgement which will be preceded by a series of catastrophic events. The introversionist typology does not apply because Muhammad did not preach about withdrawing from the world as a way to achieve salvation, but instead preached about changing one's behavior and investing in the world. While the typologies are helpful at categorizing the movement of Islam, they need to be examined together instead of individually.

Rodney Stark’s rational choice theory can also be used to classify the three prophets and their subsequent movements. Stark’s concept of social networking can be seen in Jesus’ movement when examining how Christianity first spread. Jesus’ disciples traveled far and wide and talked to people in order to teach and spread the message of Christ. Additionally, you can look at the idea of religious capital and examine the birth of Christianity using that lens. Christianity borrowed religious capital from Judaism. It is tough to say whether the early converts were attracted to Christianity due to the possibility of accumulating more religious knowledge and skills.

However, it is evident that Christianity initially appealed more to Gentiles than Jews, so one can presume that gentiles saw the possibility of increasing religious capital while most Jews did not. Additionally, Christianity was apparently adapted to reflect the ideas of Gentiles, so it makes sense that they were attracted to the religion. Jesus also preached about the idea of entering into an extended relationship with God with the idea that you can spend eternity in heaven if you worship Jesus Christ. Overall, Stark’s theory works quite well when analyzing the development of Christianity. However, this may be due to the fact that Stark has Christianizing tendencies, so Christianity would naturally fit well into his theory.

Stark’s theory can also be a useful tool to examine Mani’s religious movement and the early spread of Manichaeism. Mani focused his teachings on attractive beliefs that focused on increasing religious capital. For example, Manichaeism claimed to contain the complete and more accurate version of the teachings that were preached by his predecessors such as Buddha and Jesus. Additionally, Manichaeism contained many aspects of Christianity, as well as the concept of dualism, so there was a broader assortment of potential benefits in Mani’s “basket of goods.”

Stark’s assumption that everyone has an inexhaustible need for religion can be applied when analyzing the rapid spread of Manichaeism through the Aramaic speaking regions. Manichaeism was a great alternative to Christianity and Shapur I helped speed up the spread of Manichaeism. Although there is no proof that the Shabuhragan swayed Shapur I to adopt Manichaeism, he did not persecute people within the Sassanian Empire who practiced Manichaeism. Overall, Stark’s theory is effective at examining Mani because there are several aspects of Manichaeism that can be applied to the rational choice theory.

Now I will examine how Stark’s theory can be used to study Muhammad and his religious movement. There is an aspect of social conversion in the spread of Islam. Islam was spread by Muslim traders socializing with other people along trade routes between Asia and the Far East. The Islamic conquests were even more effective in spreading Islam. Islam also borrowed a lot from Christianity and Judaism in terms or religious capital.

The religious pluralism in the region during the life of Muhammad allowed for the religion of Islam to flourish. Religious pluralism, in combination with the free-market, allowed for religions that offered large amounts of social capital to succeed. While Islam may not offer the same benefits in terms of social capital as Manichaeism and Christianity, authorizing strategies of Muhammad do help separate Islam from the other religions. Similarly to Manichaeism, Starks theory is helpful at examining Muhammad because there are several aspects of the growth of Islam that can be analyzed using rational choice theory. 

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Theories of Spreading Christianity and Islam. (2021, Apr 04). Retrieved April 16, 2024 , from

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