Moralizing gods, impartiality and religious parochialism across 15 societies

Martin Lang, Benjamin G. Purzycki, Coren L. Apicella, Quentin D. Atkinson, Alexander Bolyanatz, Emma Cohen, Carla Handley, Eva Kundtová Klocová, Carolyn Lesorogol, Sarah Mathew, Rita A. McNamara, Cristina Moya, Caitlyn D. Placek, Montserrat Soler, Thomas Vardy, Jonathan L. Weigel, Aiyana K. Willard, Dimitris Xygalatas, Ara Norenzayan, Joseph Henrich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

10 Scopus citations

Abstract

The emergence of large-scale cooperation during the Holocene remains a central problem in the evolutionary literature. One hypothesis points to culturally evolved beliefs in punishing, interventionist gods that facilitate the extension of cooperative behaviour toward geographically distant coreligionists. Furthermore, another hypothesis points to such mechanisms being constrained to the religious ingroup, possibly at the expense of religious outgroups. To test these hypotheses, we administered two behavioural experiments and a set of interviews to a sample of 2228 participants from 15 diverse populations. These populations included foragers, pastoralists, horticulturalists, and wage labourers, practicing Buddhism, Christianity, and Hinduism, but also forms of animism and ancestor worship. Using the Random Allocation Game (RAG) and the Dictator Game (DG) in which individuals allocated money between themselves, local and geographically distant co-religionists, and religious outgroups, we found that higher ratings of gods as monitoring and punishing predicted decreased local favouritism (RAGs) and increased resource-sharing with distant co-religionists (DGs). The effects of punishing and monitoring gods on outgroup allocations revealed between-site variability, suggesting that in the absence of intergroup hostility, moralizing gods may be implicated in cooperative behaviour toward outgroups. These results provide support for the hypothesis that beliefs in monitoring and punitive gods help expand the circle of sustainable social interaction, and open questions about the treatment of religious outgroups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20190202
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume286
Issue number1898
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 13 2019

Keywords

  • Impartiality
  • Parochialism
  • Punishing gods
  • Religion
  • Supernatural punishment
  • cultural evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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    Lang, M., Purzycki, B. G., Apicella, C. L., Atkinson, Q. D., Bolyanatz, A., Cohen, E., Handley, C., Kundtová Klocová, E., Lesorogol, C., Mathew, S., McNamara, R. A., Moya, C., Placek, C. D., Soler, M., Vardy, T., Weigel, J. L., Willard, A. K., Xygalatas, D., Norenzayan, A., & Henrich, J. (2019). Moralizing gods, impartiality and religious parochialism across 15 societies. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 286(1898), [20190202]. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2019.0202