In the 1980s, alongside the rise of narrative and literary studies of the Bible — which it so happens made people readers of the Bible again and not just archaeologists digging behind the texts, was the rise of the multi-disciplinary approaches to the Bible. Suddenly, people were studying the Bible from so many angles it seemed like a smorgasboard of options asking “Which method do you use?” One major grouping was the use of social sciences and I want to focus on two of those: sociology and anthropology.
The first studied the Bible from the angle of social description and sociological methods.
We started hearing stuff about how charismatic leaders led, how groups functioned, how the early church was organized as a social group among other social groups, and how leaders functioned within groups. Some applied modern sociological theories — say on conversion — to ancient texts because we assume humans are basically the same — which I did in Turning to Jesus.
I mention the following books that shaped the whole field:
H.C. Kee, Knowing the Truth
Bengt Holmberg, New Testament Sociology
G. Theissen, The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity
From the angle of anthropology two names stood above the rest.
Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger
Bruce Malina, who applied and further developed the stuff of Mary Douglas, especially in a book called The New Testament World.