A Formal Model for the Cultural Evolutionary Dynamics of Counterintuitive Cultural Messages


  • Carles Salazar University of Lleida




communication, cultural evolution, cultural transmission, formal models, religion, religious education


In this article I present a formal model for the cultural evolution of counterintuitive cultural messages, specifically, religious ideas. This model tries to account for the reproduction of counterintuitive religious ideas by introducing a new parameter: the means of cultural communication by which those ideas are transmitted. Means of cultural communication can be classified alongside a continuum that goes from the cognitively optimal to the cognitively costly. Very simple intuitive messages may replicate weakly if they are transmitted through cognitively costly means of communication, and conversely, highly counterintuitive messages will reproduce without difficulty if they are transmitted through cognitively optimal means of communication. The formal model I propose in this study is based on a new version of the model put forward by Joseph Henrich to account for the Tasmanian case of cultural loss.

Author Biography

Carles Salazar, University of Lleida

Carles Salazar is professor of Anthropology at the University of Lleida. He gained his PhD degree at the University of Cambridge, and has carried out ethnographic fieldwork in Ireland and Catalonia. His ethnographic fieldwork has been focused on different aspects of Irish society and culture: cooperative institutions, religious beliefs, family organization and history of sexual morality. He has also done research on the history of anthropology, on new family forms in Barcelona and on the cultural understanding of biomedicine and genetics in an infertility clinic of Barcelona. He participated in the project funded by the European commission: “Public understanding of genetics: a cross-cultural and ethnographic study of the new genetics and social identity” QLG7-CT-2001-01668 (2001- 2004), in which he was responsible for the workpackage ‘Kinship and Genetics’. His theoretical and research interests are religion, cooperation, kinship theory, symbolism, and the evolutionary and cognitive approach to religion and kinship. He is currently directing a research project on forms of religiosity in three Catholic European countries. His latest publications include Anthropology and Sexual Morality. A Theoretical Investigation (2006) and European Kinship in the Age of Biotechnology, co-edited with Jeanette Edwards (2009).


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How to Cite

Salazar, C. (2020). A Formal Model for the Cultural Evolutionary Dynamics of Counterintuitive Cultural Messages. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 14(2), 204–225. https://doi.org/10.1558/jsrnc.39579