Re: Restored: "Ch. 5 - The Maya Collapses."
misterpessimistic: What about simple domination? Can one deny that the spread of Christianity is a form of control by numbers.
That depends largely on the time and place, and interpretation is often required of anyone studying the historical events. For example, the spread of Christianity into Spain during the 15th century was certainly a matter of armed conflict, and the subsequent suppression and extermination of Islam and, to a lesser extent, Judaism, is certainly a matter of domination. To some degree, that example conforms to your model, and all that is left to sort out are the political motives that are, in some particular, distinct from the religious motives even when the two seem entirely complicit.
Moving backwards a bit, the scenario is complicated during the Crusades by the relationship of religion to the political perview. The confounding fact of the matter is that there was no possible military conflict during the early to high Middle Ages that could not involve the clergy for the simple fact that chivalry had been Christianized during the tenth century -- from the tenth century onward, there were no secular militaries to speak of in all of Europe. The reason for this is that the advent of chivalric culture during the early Middle Ages had precipitated a period of rather overt barbarism, and the church had sought to protect the citizenry by formalizing knighthood. This, in fact, may be seen as the first step towards Christianity as a form of social control, but it was in this instance an entirely necessary measure from the viewpoint of preventing abuses of power and paving the way for a less oppressive society. If you think medieval feudalism is the very model of barbarism, then imagine the same social situation without a code of conduct to prevent the knighthood from killing the poor -- such protections are precisely what church involvement ensured. In the short term, therefore, the intersection of faith and military-political power was a Very Good Thing. But in relatively short order the conflation of the church with the knighthood was such that you could not justify a military conquest without some sort of appeal to religious sentiment. For that reason, it's difficult to sort out what part of the Crusades was fought for explicit religious regions and what part was fought for political and economic gain -- after all, the Holy Land was, at that time, a haven of trade and innovation.
Beyond those two obvious examples, there are plenty of less obvious examples where Christianity was spread through neither conquest not social pressure, but rather was taken up voluntarily by those who found some social or spiritual advantage in the new faith. And, of course, this could not but have been so: Christianity started out as a minority religion. For it to have survived the period where it was the focus of suppression and conquest it must have have also spread through means that in no way entailed social control.
Stepping back from Christianity for a moment, we can imagine how difficult it must be to find any religion that started off in an atmosphere of power sufficient to assure its dominance from without. How could any religious tradition that starts from the grass roots level enforce itself on the unwilling? Hypothetically speaking, the only religious traditions that could sustain a history of continuous dominance would have to have been created as a form of social control. They would have to have been devised by those already in power, and the power of its creators would have to be sufficient to impose the religion on any potential dissenters in the society. Christianity and Islam may have been in that position during isolated episodes in its history, but they cannot have continuously played the role of social mold since both began with individuals of dubious political influence.
So the best that we can say with Islam and Christianity is that they have, at points in their history, changed or developed in ways that resemble the axiom that religion is a form of social control. We cannot say that they are first and foremost forms of social control without repositioning that term to means something less than what has been implied by Marx and others (Freud, Durkheim, etc).