The Cultural Evolution of Religion

Joseph Bulbulia, Armin w. Geertz, Quentin D. Atkinson, Emma Cohen, Nicholas Evans, Pieter Francois, Herbert Gintis, Russell Gray, Joseph Henrich, Fiona M. Jordon, Ara Norenzayan, Peter J. Richerson, Edward Slingerland, Peter Turchin, Harvey Whitehouse, Thomas Widlock, David S. Wilson

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


    Religion may be one factor that enabled large-scale complex human societies to evolve. Utilizing a cultural evolutionary approach, this chapter seeks explanations for patterns of complexity and variation in religion within and across groups, over time. Properties of religious systems (e.g., rituals, ritualized behaviors, overimitation, synchrony, sacred values) are examined at different social scales, from small-scale forager to large-scale urban societies. The role of religion in transitional societies is discussed, as well as the impact of witchcraft, superhuman policing, and the cultural evolution of moralizing gods. The shift from an imagistic to a doctrinal mode of religiosity is examined, as are the relationships between sacred values and secular worlds. Cultural evolutionary approaches to religion require evidence and methods from collaborative and multidisciplinary science. The chapter concludes with an overview of several projects that are working to provide conceptual, methodological, and empirical groundwork.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationCultural Evolution: Society, Technology, Language, and Religion
    EditorsPeter J Richerson & Morten H Christiansen
    Place of PublicationCambridge, MA and London
    PublisherMIT Press
    ISBN (Print)9780262019750
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


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