Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Ancestor Worship

  • Kyle J. ClarkEmail author
  • Craig T. Palmer
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_3085-1



The communicated acceptance of the supernatural claim that dead ancestors influence, and/or are influenced by, their living descendants and, more loosely, the rituals associated with such claims.


Anthropologists studying traditional kinship-based cultures have frequently, and perhaps universally (Steadman et al. 1996), encountered the claim that dead ancestors (i.e., deceased progenitors) can still influence, and/or be influenced by, their living descendants. In such cultures, generation after generation of descendants not only communicates their acceptance of such claims, but they participate in traditional forms of sacrifice and other rituals to demonstrate their veneration of their dead ancestors and their willingness to accept the influence of those ancestors by following the traditional patterns of behavior they proscribed. This activity is typically labeled ancestor worship, and it...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Boyer, P. (2001). Religion explained: The evolutionary origins of religious thought. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  2. Dawkins, R. (1982). The extended phenotype. Oxford: W. H. Freeman.Google Scholar
  3. Fortes, M. (1969). Kinship and the social order: The legacy of L. H. Morgan. Chicago: Aldine.Google Scholar
  4. Fox, R. (1967). Kinship and marriage. Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar
  5. Freud, S. (1913). Totem and Taboo: Resemblances between the mental lives of savages and neurotics. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  6. Rappaport, R. A. (1999). Ritual and religion in the making of humanity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Sosis, R., & Alcorta, C. (2003). Signaling, solidarity, and the sacred: The evolution of religious behavior. Evolutionary Anthropology, 12(6), 264–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Steadman, L. B., & Palmer, C. T. (2008). Natural selection and the supernatural: The evolution of religion. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.Google Scholar
  9. van den Berghe, P. L., & Barash, D. P. (1977). Inclusive fitness and human family structure. American Anthropologist, 79, 809–823.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Wilson, D. S. (2002). Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, religion, and the nature of society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of MissouriColumbiaUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Catherine Salmon
    • 1
  1. 1.University of RedlandsRedlandsUSA