Wednesday, September 02, 2015
Birth of the moralizing gods.
Lizzie Wade offers two interesting summaries of work on the evolution of religion that suggest that as societies grew bigger, so did their gods. She describes the efforts of Anders Petersen, who is asking religious studies scholars to contribute his "Database of Religious History" project by answering a series of questions about the ancient religions in which each of them specialize. This kind of survey can help in testing a “big gods” hypothesis: "Did moralizing gods, community-wide rituals, and supernatural punishment emerge before or after societies became politically complex? Has any large-scale society succeeded without prosocial religion? And what does “moralizing” really mean in different cultures and at different times?" Wade's second article describes work of Ara Norenzayan and others suggesting that judgemental deities were the key to obtaining the cooperation needed to build and sustain large and complex ancient societies..."once big gods and big societies existed, the moralizing gods helped religions as dissimilar as Islam and Mormonism spread by making groups of the faithful more cooperative, and therefore more successful."