Ruth Mace

The behavioural ecology of religious beliefs and practises

1:00pm - 2:00pm / Thursday 22nd April 2021
Type: Webinar / Category: Department / Series: Evolutionary Archaeology Seminar Series
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Speaker: Prof Ruth Mace
Affiliation: University College London
Cultural transmission of religious belief has been suggested as something that may underpin everything from large-scale cooperation to the emergence of institutions through multilevel selection. The tools of behavioural ecology are now also being applied to study the evolution of religious beliefs and practices. Here I review three of our recent studies which use different empirical approaches to examine the role of religious beliefs in driving human behaviours that appear costly to individuals, but may benefit the wider community. Our studies include both microevolutionary and macroevolutionary studies on charitable and religious donations, after-life beliefs and revolution, and religious celibacy. Although relationships are complex and may work through a number of pathways, we find little evidence in our studies that religious beliefs are ultimately driving the behaviours of interest. We do find evidence that ecology and kin selection can underpin apparently costly behaviours and even the emergence of institutions.

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