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


There is an association between moral gods and sociopolitical complexity.


The authors maintained this hypothesis from their retracted article since the results did not significantly change: The construction of the overall social complexity measure comes from 51 variables falling under various categories. Variables of money include articles, tokens, precious metals, foreign coins, indigenous coins, and paper currency. Text variables are the calendar, sacred texts, religious literature, practical literature, history, philosophy, scientific literature, and fiction. Variables from the information system category are mnemonic devices, nonwritten records, written records, script, no-phonetic writing, phonetic alphabetic writing, list tables, and classifications. Variables in the government group are professional military officers, professional soldiers, professional priesthood, full-time bureaucrats, examination system, merit promotion, specialized government buildings, courts, formal legal code, judges, and professional lawyers. The hierarchical complexity group includes administrative levels, military levels, religious levels, and settlement hierarchy. Lastly, there are three groups with the same name as their category: the population of the largest settlement, polity territory, and polity population. There was then an aggregation of the 51 variables into nine using principal component analysis and finally into overall social complexity. In the retracted article, the authors measured the presence or absence of Big Gods, dividing two clusters: Moralizing High Gods (MHG) and Broad Supernatural Punishment (BSP). In this new article, both variables are combined and denoted as “Big Gods.” The proxy has been changed to Moralizing Supernatural Concern is Primary (MSCP).


Test NameSupportSignificanceCoefficientTail
Dynamic Regression AnalysesSupportedp < .001UNKNOWNUNKNOWN