The birth of the gods; the origin of primitive beliefs

University of Michigan Press Ann Arbor Published In Pages: 260
By Swanson, Guy E.


This book investigates the origins of supernatural and religious beliefs. The author tests associations between various types of beliefs (e.g. witchcraft, monotheism) and various societal characteristics (e.g. mobility, class stratification). Many hypotheses are supported. Theoretical discussion is included, and the author posits that “the belief in a particular kind of spirit springs from experiences with a type of persisting sovereign group whose area of jurisdiction corresponds to that attributed to the spirit” (175).


Sample Used Coded Data Comment
Ethnographic Reports
Ethnographic Atlas (EA)

Hypotheses (10)

"Witchcraft tends to be prevalent when people must interact with one another on important matters in the absence of legitimized social controls and arrangements" (151)Supported
"Cumulative scores which combine the number of sovereign groups in a society with the presence of unlegitimezed contacts, the size of the units of settlement, and the presence of sovereign kinship groups are related . . . to indicators of a belief in the immanence of the soul" (135-136)Supported
"Reincarnation is positively and significantly related to a settlement pattern of neighborhoods, nomadic bands, extended family compounds, and other small, but continuing units" (120)Supported
"There is a positive and significant relationship between the presence in a society of sovereign kinship groups other than the nuclear family and a belief that ancestral spirits are active in human affairs" (108)Supported
"Societies with social classes are significantly more likely than others to possess a belief in superior gods" (96)Supported
"The number of superior deities is positively and significantly related to the number of specialties of a type compatible with the nature of a society's ultimately sovereign organization" (96)Supported
". . . the greater the number of sovereign groups in excess of two, the more likely the high god will be active and even concerned with human morality" (78)Not Supported
"Monotheism is positively related to the presence of a hierarchy of three or more sovereign groups in a society" (81)Supported
"Supernatural sanctions for interpersonal relations are most likely to appear in societies in which there are interpersonal differences according to wealth" (174)Supported
"Societies with matri-families or unlegitimated contacts with aliens are less likely to possess . . . supernatural sanctions for interpersonal relations . . ." (174)Supported

Documents and Hypotheses Filed By:mas Amelia Piazza