Human Nature

, Volume 27, Issue 4, pp 372–394 | Cite as

The Faith of Sacrifice: Leadership Trade-Offs in an Afro-Brazilian Religion

  • Montserrat SolerEmail author


Despite secular trends in some countries, prestige-based authority in the form of religious leadership remains hugely influential in the everyday lives of millions of people around the world. Here, the costs and benefits of religious leadership are explored in an urban setting in northeastern Brazil. An economic game, within-group cooperation questionnaires, and social network analyses were carried out among adherents of an Afro-Brazilian religion. Results reveal that leaders display high levels of religious commitment and disproportionally provide cooperative services to group members. On the other hand, initiates cooperate less than leaders but do not differ in levels of received cooperation or social cohesion measures. This may indicate some level of exploitation or free-riding. Demographic and group variables also appear to play an important role in the degree of social cohesion a group achieves. These findings are discussed in the context of non-Western urban settings where religious leadership may represent both an alternative to social advancement and a crucial source of material aid, social support, and a strong sense of community.


Leadership Cooperation Religion Social networks Brazil Afro-Brazilian Religion 



The research presented here was funded by a National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant 0519236, Wenner Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant, and a University of California, Santa Barbara Non-Senate Faculty Fieldwork Grant. Mãe Vanda (QEPD) suggested the title of this article, and Almir dos Santos Moreira was an invaluable part of the data collection.

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyMontclair State UniversityMontclairUSA

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