Religion and Its Cultural Evolutionary By-products

  • Kristin LaurinEmail author


In this chapter I provide a cultural evolutionary perspective on one of the most prevalent kind of lay beliefs: Religion, and more specifically the belief in Big Gods: powerful, watchful, morally concerned deities. In the first part of the chapter, I summarize current thinking about the cultural evolutionary origins of these beliefs. According to the cultural evolution hypothesis, religion as a whole, and Big God beliefs in particular, emerged because cultures that promoted them were able to grow and thrive better than those that did not. More specifically, the three characteristics of Big Gods—watchfulness, power, and moral concern—make them ideal for helping enforce cooperation in large groups of human beings. In the second part of the chapter, I describe by-products of these God beliefs: Effects that these beliefs have that are separate from their initial adaptive function of promoting cooperation. In particular, I explore their consequences for self-regulation, risk-taking, relationships, and human-led enforcement of prosocial norms. I end by tracing the path toward understanding and predicting the continued evolution of religious beliefs.


Religion Belief in god Cultural evolution Self-regulation Prosocial punishment Risk taking Relationships 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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