Big societies came before big gods

Some years ago I reviewed a book by Ara Norenzayan called Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict.  Norenzayan's thesis was that it was a belief in big gods, specifically cosmic gods that cared about human morality, that enabled the creation of large scale human societies. In small societies, reputation serves as an effective … Continue reading Big societies came before big gods

Religion, the Axial Age, and theoretic culture

I recently read the late Robert Bellah's 'Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age.'  Although the title of the book seems to narrow it to just religion, in ancient societies, religion was just about everything, so the book ended up being about the development of cultures, which isn't too surprising given … Continue reading Religion, the Axial Age, and theoretic culture

Confucianism and the definition of religion

I've noted before that defining religion is difficult.  Simple definitions (such as belief in gods) tend to either exclude some religions (such as Buddhism), or include things that most people don't consider to be a religion (such as constitutional law or science).  Definitions that get the scope about right tend to be hopelessly vague or unwieldy. … Continue reading Confucianism and the definition of religion

Wealth may have driven the rise of moralizing religions

One of the things that a lot of people are often surprised to hear, is that most scholars don't believe that religion was always concerned with morality, that moralizing religion didn't exist to any significant extent before the 'Axial Age' circa 500 BC.  Psychologist Nicolas Baumard has a theory about what may have led to moralizing … Continue reading Wealth may have driven the rise of moralizing religions

Religion in Latin America is strong, except in Uruguay

Pew just released an interesting report on religion in Latin America: Religion in Latin America | Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project.  Given our recent discussion on the decline of religion in western societies, I found this report interesting.  Religion and belief in God remains very strong in Latin America, except in one country, Uruguay. … Continue reading Religion in Latin America is strong, except in Uruguay

The decline of religion in western societies

Huffington Post UK has published the results of a survey showing that half of Britain thinks religion does more harm than good, and that you don't need it to be a good person.  This seems to be a trend in Europe that was started in the Scandinavian countries.  It's in contrast to the United States, … Continue reading The decline of religion in western societies

Who was the first person to have an afterlife?

Click through for full sized version and the red button caption. via Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. The idea that only humans have an afterlife has always been one that I find interesting.  If only humans have them, at what point in our evolutionary history did we obtain them?  Did Neanderthals have them?  What about Homo-erectus?  If … Continue reading Who was the first person to have an afterlife?