The Backwash of Norenzayan’s Big Gods: A Post-Review Essay

In: Numen

This post-review discusses the reception of Ara Norenzayan’s Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict (2013) by zooming in on two review symposia for the book — one in Religion (2014), the other in Religion, Brain and Behavior (2014). The symposia ran parallel to one another, and both have resulted in the publication of ten reviews plus one commentary. The post-review discusses a selection of topics raised, including some underlying key premises, similarities with the Supernatural Punishment Hypothesis, the evidence presented, its cultural evolution framework, its conceptualization of “religion,” prosociality versus obedience, and whether “Big Gods” are really just “Abrahamic gods” rewrapped.

  • Abbott Alison “Disputed Results a Fresh Blow for Social Psychology.” Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science 2013 accessed 6 February 2015 url: http://www.nature.com/news/disputed-results-a-fresh-blow-for-social-psychology-1.12902

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  • Atkinson Quentin D., Latham Andrew J. & Watts Joseph “Are Big Gods a Big Deal in the Emergence of Big Groups?” Religion, Brain and Behavior 2014 1 9 (online)

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  • Barrett Justin L. & Greenway Tyler S. “Big Gods Can Get in Your Head.” Religion, Brain and Behavior 2014 9 13 (online)

  • Baumard Nicolas & Boyer Pascal “Empirical Problems with the Notion of ‘Big Gods’ and of Prosociality in Large Societies.” Religion, Brain and Behavior 2014 14 18 (online)

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  • Bergunder Michael “What is Religion? The Unexplained Subject Matter of Religious Studies.” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 2014 26 3 246 286

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  • Bhattacharjee Yudhijit “The Mind of a Con Man.” The New York Times 2013 April 26 accessed 6 February 2015 url: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/28/magazine/diederik-stapels-audacious-academic-fraud.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

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  • Boyer Pascal Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought 2001 New York Basic Books

  • Coleman Thomas J. III “Ara Norenzayan on ‘Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict.’ ” The Religious Studies Project 2014 accessed 27 December 2014 url: http://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/ara-norenzayan-on-big-gods-how-religion-transformed-cooperation-and-conflict/

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  • Doane Michael “An Outline of Norenzayan’s ‘Big Gods,’ by Michael Doane.” The Religious Studies Project 2014 accessed 27 December 2014 url: http://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/2014/03/05/an-outline-of-norenzayans-big-gods-by-michael-doane/

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  • Fuentes Agustin “Hyper-Cooperation is Deep in Our Evolutionary History and Individual Perception of Belief Matters.” Religion, Brain and Behavior 2014 19 25 (online)

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  • Geertz Armin W. “Do Big Gods Cause Anything?” Religion 2014 44 4 609 613

  • Hughes Aaron W. Abrahamic Religions: On the Uses and Abuses of History 2012 New York Oxford University Press

  • Johnson Dominic D. P. “God’s Punishment and Public Goods: A Test of the Supernatural Punishment Hypothesis in 186 World Countries.” Human Nature 2005 16 4 410 446

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  • Johnson Dominic D. P. “Big Gods, Small Wonder: Supernatural Punishment Strikes Back.” Religion, Brain and Behavior 2014 25 33 (online)

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  • Kiper Jordan & Meier Jacqueline “The Problems and Origins of Belief in Big Gods.” Religion, Brain and Behavior 2014 33 40 (online)

  • Lenfesty Hillary L. & Schloss Jeffrey P. “Big Gods and the Greater Good.” Religion, Brain and Behavior 2014 40 48 (online)

  • Levy Gabriel “ ‘Be careful, or you’ll act corruptly and make a carved image for yourselves, in the form of a figure, the likeness of male and female’ (Deut. 4:16): A Commentary on Norenzayan’s Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict (2013).” Religion 2014 44 4 614 621

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  • Lienard Pierre, Moncrieff Michael & Martinez Matthew “Religious Propositional Attitudes and Underdetermination of Public Representation: Commentary on Ara Norenzayan’s Big Gods.” Religion 2014 44 4 622 627

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  • Martin Luther H. “Great Expectations for Ara Norenzayan’s Big Gods.” Religion 2014 44 4 628 637

  • Mesoudi Alex Cultural Evolution: How Darwinian Theory Can Explain Human Culture and Synthesize the Social Sciences 2011 Chicago University of Chicago Press

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  • Molden Daniel C. Molden Daniel “Understanding Priming Effects in Social Psychology.” Understanding Priming Effects in Social Psychology 2014 New York The Guilford Press 3 13

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  • Norenzayan Ara “Big Gods.” 2013a accessed 31 January 2015 url: www2.psych.ubc.ca/~ara/AboutBook.html

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  • Norenzayan Ara “Big Gods Book Club #6: Concluding Thoughts.” 2013b accessed 2 February 2015 url: http://www.cognitionandculture.net/workshops/big-gods/2593-ara-norenzayan

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  • Norenzayan Ara “Big Gods in the Media.” 2013c accessed 31 January 2015 url: www2.psych.ubc.ca/~ara/MediaBook.html

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  • Norenzayan Ara “Big Questions about Big Gods: Response and Discussion.” Religion, Brain and Behavior 2014 62 77 (online)

  • Norris Pippa & Inglehart Ronald Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide 2004 Cambridge Cambridge University Press

  • Peoples Hervey C. & Marlowe Frank W. “Big Gods: Religion in the Beginning.” Religion, Brain and Behavior 2014 52 58 (online)

  • Pyysiäinen Ilkka “God is Great — But Not Necessary? On Ara Norenzayan, Big Gods (2013).” Religion 2014 44 4 638 644

  • Rüpke Jörg “Is History Important for a Historical Argument in Religious Studies?” Religion 2014 44 4 645 648

  • Schlieter Jens “ ‘. . . for they know not what they do’? Religion, Religions and Ethics as Conceptualized in Ara Norenzayan’s Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict (2013).” Religion 2014 44 4 649 657

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  • Shaver John H. Review of Ara Norenzayan, Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion 2013 1 2 246 249

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  • Sosis Richard “Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation And Conflict.” This View of Life 2014 accessed 6 February 2015 url: https://evolution-institute.org/article/big-gods-how-religion-transformed-cooperation-and-conflict/

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  • Stausberg Michael “Bellah’s Religion in Human Evolution: A Post-Review.” Numen 2014a 61 2–3 281 299

  • Stausberg Michael Big Gods in Review: Introducing Ara Norenzayan and His Critics.” Religion 2014b 44 4 592 608

  • Taves Ann “Big Gods and Other Watcher Mechanisms in the Formation of Larger Groups.” Religion 2014 44 4 658 666

  • Thomassen Einar “Are Gods Really Moral Monitors? Some Comments on Ara Norenzayan’s Big Gods by a Historian of Religions.” Religion 2014 44 4 667 673

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  • Wiebe Donald “Milestone or Millstone? Does Norenzayan’s Book Live Up to the Hype?” Religion 2014 44 4 674 683

  • 3

    On 3 March 2014, The Religious Studies Project website posted an interview with Norenzayan conducted by Thomas J. Coleman iii (http://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/ara-norenzayan-on-big-gods-how-religion-transformed-cooperation-and-conflict/ [accessed 27 December 2014]). A few days later, on 7 March, an outline of Big Gods written by Michael Doane was also posted (http://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/2014/03/05/an-outline-of-norenzayans-big-gods-by-michael-doane/ [accessed 27 December 2014]). Later that year, This View of Life, the online magazine of the Evolution Institute, posted an interview with Norenzayan conducted by Richard Sosis on 31 December 2014 (https://evolution-institute.org/article/big-gods-how-religion-transformed-cooperation-and-conflict/ [accessed 6 February 2015]). The Evolution Institute is a think tank headed by Julie Seaman, with David Sloan Wilson as the magazine’s editor in chief.

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