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Did Religion Play a Causal Role in the Evolution of Large, Complex Societies?


Gray,  Russell D.
Linguistic and Culture Evolution, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Max Planck Society;

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The notion of a powerful god is often said to play a significant role in supporting the transition from small relatively equal hunter and gatherer societies to big hierarchical societies. However, as RUSSELL GRAY explains in this video, while there is a correlation between “big gods” and “big societies”, this is no causal relationship. By comparing the evolution of different forms of social organization in cultures with a common ancestry in the Pacific and Southeast Asia the researchers found that these societies grew bigger first and only then borrowed the notion of a powerful god through the influence of Muslim traders. Another result on the influence of religion is that ritual human sacrifice played a major role in maintaining or even promoting social inequality.