Big data reveals coevolution of religion and society over 10,000 years of world history －Religious beliefs are a consequence, not a cause, of the evolution of large-scale societies－
March 22, 2019
An international group of scholars, including co-first author Associate Professor Patrick Savage of Keio University, published a foundational paper in the journal Nature based on the Seshat: Global History Databank, founded by Professor Peter Turchin of the University of Connecticut and Professors Harvey Whitehouse and Pieter François of the University of Oxford. The team established the first global database of human history and used it to test competing theories of why humans evolved to cooperate in large-scale societies. The results contradicted prevailing theories by showing that beliefs in gods who punish moral violations are a consequence, not a cause, of the evolution of complex societies.
Instead, the research found that standardized religious rituals appeared much earlier than beliefs in moralizing gods, suggesting that collective identities are more important than religious beliefs for facilitating cooperation.
This research—a collaboration between anthropologists, historians, archaeologists, mathematicians, computer scientists, and evolutionary scientists—shows how “big data” can revolutionize the study of human history.