Moralistic gods, supernatural punishment and the expansion of human sociality

  title={Moralistic gods, supernatural punishment and the expansion of human sociality},
  author={Benjamin Grant Purzycki and Coren L. Apicella and Quentin Douglas Atkinson and Emma Cohen and Rita Anne McNamara and Aiyana K. Willard and Dimitris Xygalatas and Ara Norenzayan and Joseph Henrich},
Since the origins of agriculture, the scale of human cooperation and societal complexity has dramatically expanded. This fact challenges standard evolutionary explanations of prosociality because well-studied mechanisms of cooperation based on genetic relatedness, reciprocity and partner choice falter as people increasingly engage in fleeting transactions with genetically unrelated strangers in large anonymous groups. To explain this rapid expansion of prosociality, researchers have proposed… 

Moralizing gods, impartiality and religious parochialism across 15 societies

Support is provided 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.

Moralizing Gods and the Rise of Civilization

Gods and their moralizing values, especially the powers regarding punishment, are related with how civilizations rose and developed into large societies. The emergence of human civilization is

Complex societies precede moralizing gods throughout world history

Analysis of records from 414 societies that span the past 10,000 years from 30 regions around the world reveals that moralizing gods follow—rather than precede—large increases in social complexity.

The evolution of religion and morality: a synthesis of ethnographic and experimental evidence from eight societies

ABSTRACT Understanding the expansion of human sociality and cooperation beyond kith and kin remains an important evolutionary puzzle. There is likely a complex web of processes including

Moralizing gods, local gods, and complexity in Hindu god concepts: evidence from South India

ABSTRACT Cultural evolutionary approaches to religion have found that in small-scale societies, “local gods” (LGs) usually care about ritual, in-group cooperation, and ecological challenges, whereas

Anthropology: Hand of the gods in human civilization

Cross-cultural experiments find that belief in moralistic, knowledgeable and punishing gods promotes cooperation with strangers, supporting a role for religion in the expansion of human societies.

Small gods, rituals, and cooperation: The Mentawai water spirit Sikameinan

Cognitive and evolutionary research has overwhelmingly focused on the powerful deities of large-scale societies, yet little work has examined the smaller gods of animist traditions. Here, in a study

Kinship Systems, Cooperation, and the Evolution of Culture

  • B. Enke
  • Sociology
    SSRN Electronic Journal
  • 2018
An influential body of psychological and anthropological theories holds that societies exhibit heterogeneous cooperation systems that differ both in their level of in-group favoritism and in the

Kinship, Cooperation, and the Evolution of Moral Systems

  • B. Enke
  • Psychology
    The Quarterly Journal of Economics
  • 2019
Across the social sciences, a key question is how societies manage to enforce cooperative behavior in social dilemmas such as public goods provision or bilateral trade. According to an influential



The cultural evolution of prosocial religions

It is explained how a package of culturally evolved religious beliefs and practices characterized by increasingly potent, moralizing, supernatural agents, credible displays of faith, and other psychologically active elements conducive to social solidarity promoted high fertility rates and large-scale cooperation with co-religionists, often contributing to success in intergroup competition and conflict.

Broad supernatural punishment but not moralizing high gods precede the evolution of political complexity in Austronesia

Evidence that broad supernatural punishment drives political complexity, whereas MHGs follow political complexity is found, suggesting that the concept of MHGs diffused as part of a suite of traits arising from cultural exchange between complex societies.

Supernatural punishment, in-group biases, and material insecurity: experiments and ethnography from Yasawa, Fiji

Threat of supernatural punishment can promote prosociality in large-scale societies; however, its impact in smaller societies with less powerful deities is less understood. Also, while perceived

Evolutionary accounts of belief in supernatural punishment: a critical review

This work distinguishes two divergent and often conflated approaches to supernatural punishment theory which hypothesize the adaptive character of such beliefs arise from the fact that they increase cooperation or decrease the cost of incurring punishment for norm violations.

Strong reciprocity, human cooperation, and the enforcement of social norms

Strong reciprocity cannot be rationalized as an adaptive trait by the leading evolutionary theories of human cooperation (in other words, kin selection, reciprocal altruism, indirect reciprocity, and costly signaling theory), however, multilevel selection theories of cultural evolution are consistent with strong reciprocity.

Markets, Religion, Community Size, and the Evolution of Fairness and Punishment

Fairness is measured in thousands of individuals from 15 contemporary, small-scale societies to gain an understanding of the evolution of trustworthy exchange among human societies and shows that market integration positively covaries with fairness while community size positively covary with punishment.

Supernaturalizing Social Life

This paper examines three ancient traits of religion whose origins likely date back to the Upper Paleolithic: ancestor worship, shamanism, and the belief in natural and animal spirits, arguing that these traits played a role in the evolution of human cooperation through the mechanism of social scrutiny.

The Evolution of Religion: How Cognitive By-Products, Adaptive Learning Heuristics, Ritual Displays, and Group Competition Generate Deep Commitments to Prosocial Religions

Competition among societies and organizations with different faith-based beliefs and practices has increasingly connected religion with both within-group prosociality and between-group enmity, and this connection has strengthened dramatically in recent millennia.

The ecology of religious beliefs

It is shown that the spatial prevalence of human societies that believe in moralizing high gods can be predicted with a high level of accuracy (91%) from historical, social, and ecological data, and the relative importance of different potential mechanisms by which this spatial pattern may have arisen is estimated.