Breaches of Trust Change the Content and Structure of Religious Appeals


  • Benjamin Grant PurzyckI Department of the Study of Religion Aarhus University
  • Michael N. Stagnaro Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Joni Sasaki University of Hawaii at Manoa



gods’ minds, economic games, trust, cognitive anthropology, experimental economics


Considerable work suggests that social and environmental pressures can influence religious commitment, the content of beliefs, and features of ritual. Some ecologically minded theories of religion posit that crosscultural variation in beliefs and practices can be partly explained by their utility in addressing persistent threats to cooperation and coordination. However, little experimental work has assessed whether or not socioecological pressures can generate systematic variation in the content and structure of specific beliefs. Here, we assess the causal pathway between social ecology and beliefs by experimentally examining whether or not the content of freely elicited beliefs about God’s concerns change because of breaches of trust. We find that riskily investing in others and receiving no return or delaying the outcome in an economic Trust Game experiment increases the chances of claiming that greed angers God. These results suggest that religious cognition flexibly attends to social ecology and can therefore plausibly evolve in ways that address breaches in cooperative pursuits.


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How to Cite

PurzyckI, B. G., Stagnaro, M. N., & Sasaki, J. (2020). Breaches of Trust Change the Content and Structure of Religious Appeals. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 14(1), 71–94.



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