The ecology of religious beliefs

PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) Vol/Iss. 111 (47) Published In Pages: 16784-16789
By Botero, Carlos A. , Gardner, Beth, Kirby, Kathryn R. , Bulbulia, Joseph, Gavin, Michael C. , Gray, Russell D.


Belief in moralizing high gods (MHGs) has been theorized as a response to unfavorable environments, as a way to normalize behavior. In this study, researchers test the theory by creating a model for predicting the distribution of MHGs. They run many alternative models, testing the effects of resource abundance, climate stability, and pertinent social factors on the occurrence of belief in MHGs. Based on the ten most supported models, they create an average model that predicts MHGs within cultures with “excellent” accuracy.


The sample included 583 cultures from the Ethnographic Atlas which had information on religious beliefs and for which the researchers could find environmental data. Two-thirds of the sample was used to create a mathematical model; one-third was used to test the model.


Sample Used Coded Data Comment
Ethnographic Atlas (EA)Other Researchers

Documents and Hypotheses Filed By:Tahlisa Brougham