Pro- and Assortative-sociality in the Formation and Maintenance of Religious Groups


  • Luther H. Martin University of Vermont
  • Donald Wiebe Trinity College, University of Toronto



Religious prosociality, religious assortative sociality, cognitive science of religion, experimental cognitive studies


Studies of evolved mechanisms and strategies supporting religious prosociality dominate the experimental agendas of cognitive scientists of religion while neglecting religion's antisocial, assortative consequences. We question, first of all, the assumed correlation between religion and prosociality; second the hypothesis that religious prosociality plays a role in the formation of large-scale societies, as advanced by some; the neglect of the historical record in experimental design and in the assessment of experimental results; and finally, suggest that funding sources more friendly to a positive view of religions explains the research bias supporting religious prosociality.

Author Biographies

  • Luther H. Martin, University of Vermont

    Proferssor Emeritus of Religion

  • Donald Wiebe, Trinity College, University of Toronto

    Professor of the Philosophy of Religion


Ashforth, B. E. and F. Mael. 1989. Social Identity Theory and the Organization. Academy of Management Review 14(1): 20–39.

Atran, S. 2010. Talking to the Enemy: Faith, Brotherhood, and the (Un)Making of Terrorists. New York: HarperCollins.

Atran, S. 2012. “Psychological Origins and Cultural Evolution of Religion.” In Grounding Social Sciences in Cognitive Sciences, edited by R. Sun, 209–238. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Atran, S. and J. Henrich. 2010. The Evolution of Religion: How Cognitive By-Products, Adaptative Learning Heuristics, Ritual Displays, and Group Competition Generate Deep Commitments to Prosocial Religions. Biological Theory 5(1): 18–30.

Boehm, C. 2012. Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame. New York: Basic Books.

Boyer, P. 2009. “What are Memories For? Functions of Recall.” In Memory in Mind and Culture, edited by P. Boyer and J. V. Wertsch, 3–28. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Boyer, P. 2010. Why Evolved Cognition Matters to Understanding Cultural Cognitive Variations. Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 35(3–4): 376–386.

Brueggaman, W. 1997. Theology of the Old Testament. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress.

Bushman, B. J., R. D. Ridge, E. Das, C.W. Key and G. L. Busath. 2007. “When God Sanctions Killing Effect of Scriptural Violence on Aggression.” Psychological Science 18(3): 204–207.

Chang, L., J. L. Hui, L. Hongli, L. Tong. 2011. “The Face That Launched a Thousand Ships: The Mating–Warring Association in Men.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 37(7): 976–984.

Choi, J-K. and S. Bowles. 2007. “The Coevolution of Parochial Altruism and War.” Science 26 October: 636–640.

Coyne, J. 2012. “The Problem with Group Selection, Response to Steven Pinker.” The Edge 6.18, accessed 5/2013.

de Toqueville, A. 1900. Democracy in America (rev. ed. trans.H. Reeve). London and New York: The Colonial Press.

De Waal, F. 2013. The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates. New York: W. W. Norton.

Diamond, J. 1999. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: Norton.

Diamond, J. 2005. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Penguin.

Dion, K. L. 1973. Cohesiveness as a Determinant of Ingroup-Outgroup Bias. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 28: 163–171.

Diener, E., T. Louis and D. G.Myers. 2011. “The Religion Paradox: If Religion Makes People Happy, Why Are So Many Dropping Out?” Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology 101(6): 1278–1290.

Fessler, D. M. T. 2001. “Emotions and Cost-Benefit Analysis: The Role of Shame and Self Esteem in Risk Taking.” In Bounded Rationality: The Adaptive Tookbox, edited G. Gigerenzer and R. Selten, 191–214. Cambridge MA.

Fincher, C. L. and T. Randy. 2012. “Parasite-Stress Promotes Ingroup Assortative Sociality. The Cases of Strong Family Ties and Heightened Religosity.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 35(2): 61–79.

Galen, L. W. 2012. “Does Religious Belief Promote Prosociality? A Critical Examination.” Psychological Bulletin 138(5): 876–906.

Gat, A. 2010. “The Causes of War in Natural and Historical Evolution.” In Human Morality and Sociality: Evolutionary and Comparative Perspectives, edited H. Høgh-Olesen, 160–190. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gauchet, M. 1997. The Disenchantment of the World: A Political History of Religion.” Translated by O. Burge. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Gintis, H. 2000. Strong Reciprocity and Human Sociality. Journal of Theoretical Biology 206(2): 169–179.

Holden, C. 1999. “Subjecting Belief to the Scientific Method.” Science 284(5418): 1257.

Kelly, R. C. 2005. “The Evolution of Lethal Intergroup Violence.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 102(43): 15294–15298.

Kimball, C. 2008. When Religions Become Evil. New York: HarperOne.

Martin, L. H. 2012. “The Future of the Past: The History of Religions and Cognitive Historiography.” Religio: Revue pro Religionistiku 20(2): 255–270.

Martin, L. H. 2013. “Past Minds: Evolution, Cognition and Biblical Studies.” In Mind, Morality and Magic: Cognitive Sciences Approaches in Biblical Studies, edited by I. Czachesz and R. Uro, 15–23. Durham: Acumen.

McNeill, W. H. 1963. The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

McNeill, W. H. 1995. Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Mlodinow, L. 2012. Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior. New York: Pantheon.

Munz, P. 1985. Our Knowledge of the Growth of Knowledge: Popper or Wittgenstein? London. Routledge.

Norenzayan, A. and F. S. Azim. 2008. “The Origin and Evolution of Religious Prosociality.” Science 322: 58–62.

Pinker, S. 2012. “The False Allure of Group Selection.” The Edge, Sat, 6.18., accessed 5/2013.

Reddish, P., J. Bulbulia, R. Fischer. 2013. “Does Synchrony Promote Generalized Prosociality?” Religion, Brain and Behavior., accessed 5/2013.

Saroglou, V. 2006. “Religion’s Role in Prosocial Behavior: Myth or Reality?” Psychology of Religion Newsletter – APA Division 36, 31(2): 1–8.

Saroglou, V. 2012. “Is Religion not Prosocial at All? Comment on Galen.” Psychological Bulletin 38(5): 907–912.

Schaller, M. 2006. “Parasites, Bahavioral Defenses, and the Social Psychological Mechanisms Though Which Cultures Are Evoked.” Psychological Inquiry 17: 91–101.

Schaller, M. and D. R. Murray. 2007. “Pathogens, Personality, and Culture: Disease Prevalence Predicts Worldwide Variability in Sociosexuality, Extraversion, and Openness to Experience.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95: 212–221.

Schaller, M. and D. R. Murray. 2010. “Infectious Diseases and the Evolution of Cross-Cultural Differences.” In Evolution, Culture, and the Human Mind, edited by M. Schaller, A. Norenzayan, S.J. Heine, T. Yamagishi and T. Kamedo, 243–272. New York: Psychology Press.

Sell, A., J. Tooby and L. Cosmides. 2009. “Formidability and the Logic of Human Anger.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 106(35): 15073–15078.

Sharif, M., O. J. Harvey, R.W. Hood and C.W. Sherif. 1961. The Robber Cave Experiment: Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Slingerland, E., J. Henrich and A. Norenzayan. 2013. “The Evolution of Prosocial Religions.” In Cultural Evolution: Society, Technology, Language, and Religion (Strüngmann Forum Reports), edited by P.J. Richerson, M. H. Christiansen, 335–348. Cambridge MA: The MIT Press.

Smail, D. L. 2008. On Deep History and the Brain. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Tooby, J. and L. Cosmides. 2010. “Groups in Mind: The Coalitional Roots of War and Morality.” In Human Morality and Sociality: Evolutionary and Comparative Perspectives, edited by H. Høgh-Olesen, 190–234. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Turchin, P. 2007. War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires. New York: Plume.

Weierstall, R., I. Schalinski, A. Crombach, T. Hecker and T. Elbert. 2012. “When Combat Prevents PTSD Symptoms: Results from a Survey with Former Child Soldiers in Northern Uganda.” BMC Psychiatry 12(41): 1–8.

Weierstall, R., M. Schauer and T. Elbert. 2013. “An Appetite for Aggression.” Scientific American Mind. May/June: 47–49.

Wiebe, D. 2009. “Religious Biases in Funding Religious Studies Research?” Religio: Revue pro Religionistiku 17(2): 125–140.

Wiebe, D. 2013. “Pseudo-Speciation of the Human Race: Religions as Hazard-Precaution Systems.” In Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 25(4–5): 410–430.

Wilson, David S., D. T. O’Brian and A. Sesma. 2009. “Human Prosociality from an Evolutionary Perspective: Variation and Correlations at a City-Wide Scale.” Evolution and Human Behavior 30: 190–200.

Xygalatas, D. 2013. “Effects of Religious Setting on Cooperative Behavior: a Case Study from Mauritius.” Religion, Brain and Behavior 3(2): 91–102.

Yoffee, N. 2005. Myths of the Archaic State: Evolution of the Earliest Cities, States, and Civilizations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.






How to Cite

Martin, L. H., & Wiebe, D. (2019). Pro- and Assortative-sociality in the Formation and Maintenance of Religious Groups. Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion, 2(1), 5-61.