Cooperation, conflict and the cultural evolution of religion

Fri, 2013-02-15 (All day)
Event Type: 

2nd Annual HESP Symposium

Sponsored by:

Human Evolutionary Studies Program, SFU

Cultural Evolution of Religion Research Consortium, UBC


Recently archaeologists have begun to explore new ways of conceptualizing the role of religion in past human societies. So far, however, contemporary cultural evolutionary approaches to the study of religion have not featured in this discussion to any great extent. This symposium seeks to change this state of affairs by bringing together archaeologists, anthropologists, and psychologists to discuss the hypothesis that religious beliefs and practises facilitate the emergence of large-scale, complex societies by enhancing within-group cooperation. Some of the questions we anticipate examining during the symposium include: Do some forms of religion promote social solidarity and cohesion more effectively than others? How important are religious leaders in stimulating or preventing cooperation? Are costly rituals essential to the formation of large-scale, complex societies? How does increased social stratification relate to changes in religious beliefs and practises? Do episodes of warfare and territorial expansion follow shifts in religious beliefs and practises? Do environmental conditions make some types of religion more or less likely?

The symposium is a joint initiative of the Human Evolutionary Studies Program (HESP) at SFU and the Cultural Evolution of Religion Research Consortium at UBC. HESP is an interdisciplinary research group involving researchers from several units at SFU, including the Departments of Archaeology, Biological Sciences, Economics, and Linguistics, and the Faculties of Business Studies and Health Sciences, as well as researchers from UBC and Douglas College. It is supported by a major grant from SFU’s Community Trust Endowment Fund. CERC is a recently formed network of scholars in the humanities and sciences committed to testing the hypothesis that religious beliefs and practices contribute to the development and maintenance of large-scale cooperative groups. It is supported by a major grant from SSHRC, with matching funding from UBC, SFU, Aarhus University, and the University of Oxford.