Stark, Rodney. "Chapter 2: The Class Basis of Early Christianity." The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1997, 29-47.
Stark notes that through much of the 20th century there was an assumption that early Christians were, by and large, dispossessed and oppressed (Stark 1997, 29). Counter to this idea, later 20th century research, such as that of E.A. Judge, suggests that the bulk of Christians were associated in some way with upper class househilds and their dependents. These were often influential and secure individuals (Stark 1997, 30). Research has continued to indicate a relatively strong Christian presence among the upper classes. Stark notes that this is a return to the scholarly opinion prior to the 20th century (Stark 1997, 32).
Stark considers the distinction among class, sect, and cult to be important. While a sect is a division of an existing group, it is not a new creation, as a cult is (Stark 1997, 33). The sect tends to form among an underclass, while a new religion is not normally populated from an impoverished class (Stark 1997, 34). Again, Stark finds that religious faith is not more common among the lower classes than in the upper classes (Stark 1997, 35). Rather, he finds religion to be very enticing when it offers something that cannot be obtained by any of our human resources. This, according to Stark, is primarily seen as eternal life (Stark 1997, 36). Because of this dynamic, Stark takes the promises of religion to be the operative feature, rather than assuming the class status of the potential adherent to be of highest priority.
In light of his earlier arguments, Stark takes the appeal of new religious groups to be based on the understanding of potential adherents that the new group resolves problems which would otherwise have been left unresolved (Stark 1997, 37). This effect may also be related to the fact that people who are more affluent and educated tend to investigate and explore claims, thus being early adopters of new cultural trends. Stark would expect their attraction to religious trends to be roughly similar (Stark 1997, 38).
To compare possible early Christian growh patterns with a modern example of a new religious movement, Stark considers the growth of Mormonism and Christian Science in the 19th century. The adherents generally were known to have both financial means and access to education (Stark 1997, 39-41).
Stark asks, then, whether Christianity would have arisen as a sect of Judaism or as a new religion, which he would define as a "cult movement" (Stark 1997, 44). Up until the claims of resurrection, Christianity would seem to be a reform-minded sect of Judaism. However, the claim of resurrection identified Christianity as a new religion (Stark 1997, 44). It was, moreover, definitely not a sect within the paganism of the time. This would suggest, then, that the greatest growth would be among the more educated and affluent in the socity (Stark 1997, 45).