Harsh Environments May Have Produced Beliefs in Judgemental Gods

Posted on November 13, 2014

A new study from the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) suggests that belief in powerful, moralizing gods are more likely to develop in societies that live in harsh environments with limited access to food and water.

“When life is tough or when it’s uncertain, people believe in big gods,” says Professor Russell Gray of the University of Auckland. He is also a founding director of the Max Planck Institute for History and the Sciences in Jena, Germany. “Prosocial behavior maybe helps people do well in harsh or unpredictable environments,” Gray added.

Gray and his team also found that such societies were also likely to develop animal husbandry and political complexities, like a social hierarchy beyond the local community. They also found a link between worship of judgmental gods and group cooperation. While earlier studies had explained the development of religion as the result of either environmental or cultural factors, the new study links it to a mix of historical, ecological, and cultural factors.

The researchers studied historical, ecological, and social data for 583 societies. The ecological data included variables like rainfall, plant growth, and temperature. The team also used the Ethnographic Atlas to look up social data like local religious beliefs, agriculture, and animal husbandry. The researchers concluded that the development of religion is due to an array of ecological, historical, and social factors.

The paper is currently inline and will be published in an upcoming issue of Proceedings of the National Academies of ScienceBig shout out to friend of the site Bruce Levenson for sending me this fascinating article. I love anthropology and am happy when people send me in interesting things like this