Today I was reading an interesting study in Nature, “Moralistic gods, supernatural punishment and the expansion of human sociality” by Purzycki et al, which explored prosociality and religion. The researchers’ hypothesis is that “cognitive representations of gods as increasingly knowledgeable and punitive, and who sanction violators of interpersonal social norms, foster and sustain the expansion of cooperation, trust and fairness towards co-religionist strangers.” They tested this hypothesis through ethnographic interviews and two behavioral games designed to measure impartial rule-following among people. The methods of studying cultural evolution is fascinating!

What stood out was the role of religion in forming societies:

Moreover, when people are more inclined to behave impartially towards others, they are more likely to share beliefs and behaviours that foster the development of larger-scale cooperative institutions, trade, markets and alliances with strangers. . . . In addition to some forms of religious rituals and non-religious norms and institutions, such as courts, markets and police, the present results point to the role that commitment to knowledgeable, moralistic and punitive gods plays in solidifying the social bonds that create broader imagined communities (Purzycki et al).

I am interested in how religion has formed bonds and severed relationships between people throughout history and am looking forward to exploring this topic further.

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