The Case for Chimpanzee Religion


  • James B Harrod Center for Research on the Origins of Art and Religion



Religion, spirituality, evolution, animals, primates, chimpanzees, ritual, symbolic behavior, metaphor, structuralism, trans-species definition of religion


Do chimpanzees engage in religious behaviors? To date this question remains unanswered. I use methods from religious studies and anthropology of religion that demonstrate an answer in the af?rmative. A comprehensive review of primatology reports reveals that chimpanzees do perform ritualized patterns of behavior in response to birth, death, consortship, and elemental natural phenomena. A structuralist analysis of these patterns shows that chimpanzees deploy similar formulaic action schemas involving recombination of syntagmatic and paradigmatic behaviors across all four of these life-situations. In the course of these performances, chimpanzees decontextualize and convert everyday communicative signals to express non-ordinary emotions of wonder and awe. The patterning of chimpanzee ritual behaviors evidences all the components of a prototypical trans-species de?nition of religion. These ?ndings support hypotheses that propose religious behaviors for other species, including hominins prior to Homo sapiens sapiens.

Author Biography

James B Harrod, Center for Research on the Origins of Art and Religion

James B Harrod is the Director at the Center for Research on the Origins of Art and Religion.


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How to Cite

Harrod, J. B. (2014). The Case for Chimpanzee Religion. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 8(1), 8–45.