Testing the Big Gods hypothesis with global historical data: a review and“retake”

Religion, Brain & Behavior Vol/Iss. 13(2) Taylor & Francis Group Published In Pages: 124-166
By Whitehouse, Harvey, François, Pieter, Savage, Patrick E., Hoyer, Daniel, Feeney, Kevin C., Cioni, Enrico, Purcell, Rosalind, Larson, Jennifer, Baines, John, ter Haar, Barend, Covey, Alan, Turchin, Peter


This study challenges the Big Gods hypothesis, which suggests that moral gods are a critical factor that preceded the evolution of complex societies. Using the Seshat database, the authors expanded the codebook and database of their retracted article (see notes). The results show significant support that sociopolitical complexity and moralizing gods are associated and that sociopolitical complexity appears to precede the presence of Big Gods. The authors also show some support that sociopolitical complexity might be a driving factor of moralizing gods. Still, they state that the results are incomplete since they only focus on the possibility of reciprocal causality.


Notes: This is a revised version of Whitehouse et al. (2019): "Complex societies precede moralizing gods throughout world history." The authors decided to retract the former article after receiving criticism from Beheim et al. (2021) regarding the missing data and the mislabeling during the data analysis. The correction of errors in the coding and analysis did not significantly change the former findings. The first two hypotheses in the former article have remained supported, but "(Retracted) Contrary to the Moral High Gods hypothesis, complex societies precede broad supernatural punishment of moral transgressions" has not been added to this new entry since the authors combine their two variables (Moralizing High Gods and Broad Supernatural Punishment) into one, Big Gods. The entry of the retracted article can be found here: https://hraf.yale.edu/ehc/documents/1225.


Sample Used Coded Data Comment
Seshat: Global History DatabankResearchers' own 309 polities among 31 Natural Geographic Areas

Documents and Hypotheses Filed By:stefania.becerralavado