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Structure and Dynamics

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The State and the Supernatural: Support for Prosocial Behavior


Using the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample, Roes and Raymond (2003) find that large societies are more likely to be located in resource-rich environments, engage in warfare, and hold beliefs in gods actively supporting human morality (“moralizing gods”). We revisit the Roes and Raymond study, using the methods presented in a series of papers by Dow and Eff. Our findings suggest that moralizing gods are less likely to be found in resource-rich environments or amongst societies frequently engaged in external warfare. We find that cultural transmission over geographic space is the most significant force in conditioning belief in moralizing gods; that moralizing gods are more likely to be found in pastoral societies; and that the relationship between society size and moralizing gods is non-linear, with both very large and very small societies less likely to have moralizing gods. We explain this non-linearity by arguing that the functions of moralizing gods can also be performed by the state, and we also argue that moralizing gods play an important role in stabilizing property rights.

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