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← Why Women Are Bound to Religion: An Evolutionary Perspective

Denial's Avatar Jump to comment 26 by Denial

This theory fails to account for the fact that in the catholic "consecrated life" (monks and nuns), an environment devoid of reproduction decisions, nuns outnumber monks 4 to 1. For this case, it can only resort to its claim of "deep psychological needs", which are so ill-defined they are basically non-falsifiable, i.e. unscientific.

Much like some other psychological and most cognitive theories of religion, its "psychological needs" should predict constant religious innovation among non-religious populations. This prediction is usually omitted because it is so obviously false, but it follows fairly logically from most theories of this type. In this case, the problem is explained away with "strength and courage", not common psychological measures but typical moral ones - and undefined/non-falsifiable as well.

A model that works much better is the rational choice theory of religion. It explains religious behaviour as investment in relationships with supernatural agents for expected benefits. This investment is dependent on trust in the supernatural agent (which is socially reinforced), on what the religion promises and on how expensive its costs are. This model expects people to act rationally within the scope of their knowledge and observation (including religious convictions), i.e. it expects people to always try to get more for less. So religious behaviour takes place if and when it seems to be the more beneficial way of spending one's time. This means people who earn a lot per hour exhibit less religious behaviour than poor people. This in turn explains why country-folk are more religious than city dwellers, old (and especially retired) people are more religious than young ones - and women are more religious than men. In each case, it is a matter of whether or not more attractive ways of "spending" one's time are available.

The book is "Acts of Faith" by Stark and Bainbridge. It explains a lot of aspects of the religion landscape that cognitive theories can't, such as why religions tend to become less expensive sacrifice-wise over the centuries, why monotheism is more successful than polytheism or why there are no big churches of magic. I strongly recommend it to those who seek in-depth scholarship rather than just plausible stories with moral tidbits.

Tue, 17 Feb 2009 05:30:00 UTC | #326039