Michael Muthukishna, Asst. Professor of Economic Psychology, Dept of Psychological and Behavioural Science, London School of Economics (LSE) Research Associate, Dept of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University Technical Director, Database of Religious History (religiondatabase.org)
The Evolution of Culture and Religion
Humans are an extraordinarily successful species. We live in every imaginable ecosystem from lush forests to dry deserts, from fertile grasslands to desolate tundra. Most animals genetically adapt to survive in new environments. Humans culturally adapted, developing beliefs and behaviors, tools and technologies, that solved each new problem we faced. And we often did this without the need to understand what we were doing. The mechanisms that allowed for cultural evolution also allowed for the accumulation of collective progress, such that not even the smartest individual among us could recreate the world we now live in.
I'll introduce the latest science in human evolution, a large part of which is cultural evolution. I'll also discuss how we went from cooperating and living in small bands of extended relatives, to towns of acquaintances, to nations of anonymous strangers, and are now attempting unions of many of nations. Religion played a pivotal role in transitioning between scales of cooperation. Understanding the mechanisms underlying this large-scale anonymous cooperation may help us understood the decline in violence, but also the threats to that peace we may face in the future.