Modeling Theories and Modeling Phenomena: A Humanist’s Initiation

  • Ann TavesEmail author
Part of the New Approaches to the Scientific Study of Religion book series (NASR, volume 7)


My introduction to modeling has gone through various stages. The first stage, in which I worked with the modeling team, was like an initiation process in which, as the initiate, I trusted my guides without really knowing where we were going or what the outcome would be. During this stage, I worked with the modeling team and a class of ten students – three doctoral students and seven undergraduates – to model Rodney Stark’s theory of why new religious movements succeed or fail. Based on our collaborative discussion of Stark’s ten propositions, the modeling team developed an agent-based model of Stark’s theory in NetLogo. In addition to analyzing the theory to help generate the model, the students and I provided the modeling team with historical data on ten NRMs in order to test the model against what actually happened. The model is currently at the validation stage, so we do not yet have analytical results. The second stage involved learning the basics of NetLogo and the discovery of generative social science, which builds models from the ground up in order to develop theories. This allowed me to distinguish between two different goals – modeling an extant theory in order to test it and modeling a phenomenon in order to generate a theory. This gave me a better understanding of what the modelers did to model Stark’s theory and a sense of choices I can make as I move forward. I hope to draw from both experiences to model a phenomenon central to my own research.


Rodney Stark New religious movements Generative social science Teaching NetLogo Historical data Testing theories 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA

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