The Cultural Evolution of Prosocial Religions Field Sites

Cachoeira, Brazil

Cachoeira (population 15,000) is located about 75 miles inland from the city of Salvador da Bahia in Northeastern Brazil. Nuclear and extended family households constitute the main societal units in Cachoeira, and female-headed households are common. Small-scale commerce, informal day labor, and tourism are the main sources of income. During Brazil’s latest economic boom (2010-2013), commercial activity grew, the volume of cars and motorcycles increased, and the use of cell phones and social media became widespread. However, by August 2015 when the study was conducted, the economy had crashed spectacularly, and the currency had lost a third of its value in eight months. Many participants mentioned recent job losses and held a bleak outlook of their economic future.

We chose the Roman Catholic God as the moralizing deity and Ogum, one of the Candomblé orixás, as the local god. Candomblé is a religion of the African Diaspora, which centers on the cultivation of axé, the life-force of the universe. Olorun or Olódùmarè is the creator god, but most rituals are directed at the orixás and other entities. The religion is organized around autonomous groups called terreiros led by a priestess or priest (mãe or pai-de-santo). While Candomblé norms and beliefs are distinct, there is some syncretism with Roman Catholicism and Candomblé adherents see little conflict between following the religion and believing in the Christian god or other deities.

Coastal and Inland Tanna, Vanuatu

Tanna is a tropical volcanic island situated at the southern end of a chain of approximately 65 inhabited islands that make up the Pacific nation of Vanuatu. Participants were sampled from two locations on Tanna: a predominantly Kastom Inland Tanna site and a predominantly Christian Coastal Tanna site. The Coastal Tanna site is a contiguous set of Christian coastal villages near the market town of Lenakel, with a total population of approximately 500. Residents are a combination of wage laborers, traders and subsistence farmers, some of whom have spent time living and working in Port Vila or doing seasonal work in Australia or New Zealand. All attend church but many also participate in local Kastom rituals. The Inland Tanna site is a rural Kastomcommunity of subsistence farmers living in three small hamlets with a total population of approximately 90. In an effort to preserve the traditional Kastom way of life, individuals in these villages tend to eschew money and are much less likely to own electronic devices, or have worked for a wage.

Religion on Tanna is a mix of Christianity and traditional Melanesian and Polynesian beliefs and practices. Christian missionary activity began in the late 1830’s following European contact and had a profound effect on the religious life of the island. Today, over 60% of the population of roughly 28,000 reports belonging to a Christian church. Despite the influence of Christianity, a 2009 census indicated that a fifth of the Tannese population identify as belonging to the Kastom religion. Kastomon Tanna is a revival and re-interpretation of pre-contact mythology and traditional cultural practices [20] and encompasses beliefs in a number of indigenous gods and ancestor spirits spread across the island. One of the most powerful supernatural agents, Kalbaben, features in many folk stories and is often referred to as the creator god, taking up residence in the highest peak on Tanna, Mt. Tukosmera. Tupunus refers to the spirit or spiritual forces surrounding the garden, and by extension to the local magic practitioner who controls the spirit-force. Every evening, men (including many self-identified Christians) engage in ritualistic kava-drinking and associated libation to Kalbaben. Given the religious divide between Coastal and Inland Tanna, we chose the Christian God as the moralizing god and Tupunus as the local god at the Coastal site, and Kalbaben as the moralizing god and Tupunus as the local god at the Inland site.

Hadza, Tanzania

The Hadza are an indigenous population of hunter-gatherers living a semi-arid region at the base of a branch of the East African rift valley close to the Lake Eyasi basin. They live in small, mobile camps of approximately 30 individuals. Hadza life is characterized by high levels of food sharing, little to no stratification (e.g., chiefs), flexible residential patterns, monogamous marriage (although polygamy is occasionally practiced) and high levels of fertility. While their economy is largely subsistence-based – surviving on hunted game and gathered fruit, honey and nuts – the Hadza also frequently supplement their revenue with monetary earnings from tourists.

A particularly interesting feature of the Hadza, for the purposes of the present study, is that they were claimed to be minimally religious, as portrayed in past ethnographic descriptions. However, recent interviews with the Hadza suggest that a majority believe in a god or gods. In fact, an entity long featured in Hadza cosmology, Haine, may have acquired a god-like status to some Hadza, possibly due to the influence of Christian missionaries. However, the majority of Hadza still did not know or did not believe in Haine’s ability to enact supernatural feats. Another cosmic entity, Ishoko, who the Hadza also named as a god, appears to be incorporated into Hadza beliefs about Haine. Most Hadza, when asked if Haine and Ishoko were the same or distinct entities, reported that they were one and the same. Hence, we selected only Haine as the moralizing god for Wave II, with no local god.

Huatasani, Peru

Huatasani, a district in the Southern Peruvian Altiplano in the department of Puno, is home to 4,100 people, about 2,000 of whom live in the town of Huatasani. The research was conducted both in this town and in some of the districts’ rural communities during the dry season (July and August 2015). The primary mode of subsistence in the area is agro-pastoralism. Many people, particularly in town, complement agro-pastoralism with commerce in larger cities, raising domesticated animals for market, producing cheese, or mining in an area about a 3-hour bus ride north of town.

The vast majority of people in Huatasani consider themselves Catholic, and practice Catholicism in a largely syncretic form with influences from traditional Andean religious practices. Dios, the Christian God, was therefore selected as the moralizing god in our study. For the local god we first chose local spirits of the landscape called apus (from traditional Andean cosmovision). However, during the initial interviews many participants mentioned that they did not believe in apus. As such, 53% of participants were primarily asked in depth questions about their beliefs and practices regarding Catholic saints as local gods rather than apus. Specific Catholic saints and instantiations of the Virgin are often important for local communities, neighborhoods or areas.

Kananga, Democratic Republic of Congo

Kananga, a city of roughly 1 million (the fourth largest in Congo), is the seat of the Provincial Government of Kasai Central, one of the poorest provinces of the D.R. Congo. Kananga has a moderate climate, and is situated at the transition from the equatorial forest to the savannah. It is an administrative city, in which the Provincial Government is by far the largest employer. The great majority of individuals, however, engage in some form of petty commerce, capitalizing on small arbitrage opportunities that arise in a place where decaying infrastructure creates sizeable frictions to the free flow of goods and people.  Kananga is ethnically diverse, with 64% of the population identifying as ethnically Luluwa, but with sizeable minorities of Luntu, Luba, Kuba, Lele, Tetela, Songe, Bindi, Chokwe and other ethnic groups.

The religious landscape of Kananga is variegated. Nearly 100% of the population identifies as Christian, with 34% belonging to Pentecostal/born-again churches (églises de réveil), 23% to Catholic churches, and 15% to Protestant churches. The moralizing god in this setting is therefore the Christian God. Alongside professed beliefs in the Christian God, individuals reported beliefs in a number of local deities and ancestral spirits. We first chose as the local god Kadima; however, since no participant in the initial interviews indicated believing in Kadima, we used ancestral spirits as the local god instead.

Lovu, Fiji

Indo-Fijians are a diaspora population brought to Fiji from India by the British as indentured workers. Wage labor is the primary source of income but Indo-Fijians also farm sugar cane. Religiously, Indo-Fijians are primarily Hindus and Muslims though some are Sikhs or Christian. The present sample includes Hindus from Lovu village on the island of Viti Levu. Participants largely claimed that all Hindu gods are different aspects of one single deity, Bhagwan and this deity was therefore selected as the moralistic deity for this study. As one could not be identified, no Local Deity was selected. In the experiments, the DISTANT co-religionist was a Hindu living on Vanua Levu, the second largest island in Fiji. For the Indo-Fijian sample, this study was conducted in Fiji-Hindi and English. Participants came primarily from the villages of Lovu Seaside and Lovu HART. Some additional participants came from the nearby villages of Koro Pita, and Drasa. They were contacted in person at their homes ahead of time and asked if they would like to participate. The Lovu research group obtained names and contact information from those who agreed. Though specific time slots were given to all participants ahead of time, almost no one showed up in their allotted time slot. Because of this, participants were taken whenever they showed up. Since every identifiable Hindu household in Lovu Seaside and Lovu HART were contacted, all participants from those villages were accepted. Only participants from Koro Pita and Drasa who had been previously contacted, or who showed up at the same time as those that had been previously contacted, were accepted. Participants from outside of Lovu who had been told about the experiment by their friends or family members after their friends and family members had participated were not allowed to participate.

Marajó, Brazil

At the mouth of the Amazon River lies Marajó Island, Brazil. Pesqueiro is a small fishing village on the east side of Marajó Island. Residents of Pesqueiro rely primarily on fish sales and tourism. Most residents are Catholic, although some are Evangelical Protestants. For this sample, the Moralistic Deity was the Christian God (Deus), and Our Lady of Nazareth (Nossa Senhora de Nazaré), the region’s patron saint served as the Local Deity. The DISTANT co-religionist was a Christian from Rondon, a distant but familiar town in mainland Pará state. For residents of Pesqueiro, the study was conducted in Portuguese. Participants were sampled from the entire village. An up-to-date census of the entire population (total: 309; 92 families) was obtained and all adults were included for random selection. Individuals were approached in their homes and invited to take part in the study. If unavailable, an alternative was selected from a reserve list (also randomly generated). Thirty-four out of a total 128 individuals were unavailable on the scheduled date for the study, leaving a total of 94 scheduled participants, who were randomly assigned to conditions. Fourteen people did not show for their session.

Pointe aux Piments, Mauritius

Mauritius is an island nation in the Indian Ocean, located on the Tropic of Capricorn and forming part of the Mascarene archipelago. It has a population of 1.3 million people, composed of a wide range of ethnic groups, including people of Asian, African, and European origin. Our field site, Pointe aux Piments, is a rural village on the Northwest coast with a population of 9,000, mostly employed in agriculture, fishing, tourism, and other services. Mauritian Hindus, who comprised our sample for this study, have a patrilineal, patrilocal kinship system. Although most households consist of nuclear families, residential plots of land typically consist of multiple patrilineally-arranged households, where the entire extended family lives around a shared central yard.

The majority of Hindus in Pointe aux Piments are adherents of Sanatana Dharma, which is a mainstream form of traditional Hinduism originating from Northern India. The most important god among our participants, Shiva, served as the moralizing god at this site. Shiva is known to have benevolent as well as fearsome qualities (Destroyer and Transformer). Belief in spirits is widespread in Mauritius irrespective of religious affiliation [24]. These beliefs are a syncretic mix of Christian and animistic concepts of African origin and are largely shared between ethnic and religious groups. These spirits are the souls of dead people, and can be benevolent or evil, depending on the circumstances of the person’s death and the rituals performed for them. This notion of spirit was used as the local god.

Mysore, India

Mysore is the southernmost city of the Indian state Karnataka, and is situated between the Kaveri and Kabini rivers. The climate is tropical savanna and summer spans the months of March through June, followed by a rainy season from July through November, and winter from December through February. The District of Mysore consists of an urban region with over 900,000 residents, and a rural region with over 1.6 million residents. Residents have an industrial subsistence-based economy, with household industries, agricultural labor, and cultivation comprising the main sources of income. The current study focused on people located in the urban region of the Mysore District.

The three major religions in the region are Hinduism (87%), Islam (8.9%), and Buddhism (1.4%). Shiva is the main god of Hinduism in Mysore and was selected as the moralizing god. We used Chamundeshwari, who is considered to be a form of Durga, as the local goddess. In Shaivite Hinduism, which characterizes the majority of Hindus in South India, Shiva is believed to be responsible for creation, destruction, and maintenance. Chamundeshwari is portrayed as a ferocious tiger-riding warrior goddess, but is also viewed as a “mother goddess” who protects all residents of Mysore.

Samburu, Kenya

Samburu County is a semi-arid region of 20,000 square kilometers, located in north central Kenya. The population is primarily ethnic Samburu, although there are small numbers of other ethnic groups as well. Livestock herding, or pastoralism, is the main livelihood, although the Samburu people are increasingly diversifying their economic activities to include wage labor and trade (in livestock, forest products, food items, and other consumer items). In areas with higher and more reliable rainfall, some Samburu grow crops including maize, beans, potatoes, kale and other vegetables. However, cultivation is a high-risk activity given the frequency of droughts. Samburu society comprises eight sections, each divided into a number of clans, sub-clans and lineages. It is a polygynous, patrilineal and patrilocal society. There is quite a bit of variation in settlement structure and a trend toward smaller settlements.

Samburu indigenous religion is monotheistic, with belief focused on the god, Nkai who is understood to be omniscient and omnipresent, but is especially associated with high places like mountain tops. No other gods were mentioned by our informants. Catholic and Protestant missionary activities among the Samburu date back to the 1930s, and the Christian god is also referred to as Nkai. Nkai was therefore selected as the moralizing god in this study. However, there is considerable variation in religious self-identification and practice. For example, all informants named rituals related to male age-grade ceremonies, including male circumcision and a series of rituals that mark the progress of men from warrior to elder status. Only a few informants named Christian practices such as attending church and celebrating holidays such as Christmas and Easter as important religious rituals.

Sursurunga, Papua New Guinea

There are approximately 4000 speakers of Sursurunga who live in 19 nucleated villages along the southeastern coast of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea. Most Sursurunga are subsistence horticulturalists whose gardens provide a tuber-based diet of taro, various varieties of sweet potato, and manioc. Store-bought supplements such as rice and canned fish accompany some meals.  Income from cash crops such as copra and cacao have long been the primary source of money, although a recent outbreak of vascular streak dieback has wiped out most people’s cacao holdings.  Matrilineal descent in the form of named clans governs a number of features of Sursurunga life, including access to garden land, marriage, and the sequence of mortuary rituals conducted in honor of the deceased.

All Sursurunga speakers maintain at least a nominal commitment to Christianity. Wesleyan Methodist missionaries established a church at Nokon around 1925 and at Tekedan shortly thereafter.  Like many other Pacific Island peoples, the Sursurunga have incorporated Christianity into their belief systems, redefining the origins of moieties, the array of unseen beings, and the norms of generosity and reciprocity as biblical. For almost all Sursurunga, the most prominent being is Káláu: God the Father in Christian Trinitarian thought. Hence, Káláu was chosen as the moralizing god. There are also a number of local spirits, many of whom cause illness, injury, or misfortune of some sort, including those guided to do so by sorcerers.  We chose sirmát as the local god, a spirit that is independent of the control of sorcerers. Men occasionally “marry” a sirmát, which means, among other things, that they do not disclose her as the source of any good fortune they might have. Sirmáts’ primary interest in human behavior is pragmatic: they do not like and are believed to try to punish human behavior that disturbs their tranquility.

Turkana, Kenya

The Turkana are semi-nomadic pastoralists with a population of approximately 1 million. They inhabit the semi-arid region of north-west Kenya, an area prone to frequent droughts. Within Kenya, the Turkana neighbor the Pokot, Samburu, Rendille, and Borana pastoral ethnic groups, with whom cattle raiding and interethnic tensions are common. They have low literacy rates and limited market integration. Most individuals make a living by herding cattle, small livestock (goats and sheep), and camels, which provide the main sources of household protein. Livestock are periodically sold in town to purchase staples like maize flour, beans, sugar, tea and tobacco. The Turkana are patrilineal, patrilocal, and polygynous. They are separated into approximately 18 different territorial sections (ekitela), which are geographically distinct, with each territorial section living on and having grazing rights to certain delineated land areas. Cross-cutting these territorial sections are approximately 24 different ethnic “marks” or clans (emacar). Marriage is exogamous at the clan level.

The moralizing god in this study was Akuj, a primary deity among the Turkana who is associated with the sky, particularly as the giver of life and of rain (two elements that are highly associated in Turkana society). Akuj is said to live at the tops of mountains, especially those mountains that are associated with rain. He is benevolent and omnipotent, and actively controls all major blessings in life. With the expansion of Christian missions starting in the 1960s, Christianity co-opted Akuj as the creator and one true God, and took the Turkana term for “an evil spirit,” known as ekipe, as a single Satan character. There is considerable individual variation in the extent to which people have adopted Christian practices. When individuals who have been strongly influenced by Christianity refer to Akuj, they do not typically distinguish between the local primary god, Akuj, and the Christian monotheistic god, Akuj. Aside from Akuj, there is also a belief in the existence of small, terrestrial ancestral spirits known as ngipean or ngikaram, who are more limited in their scope and powers than Akuj.  Some spirits can be quite malevolent and may require animal sacrifices to be appeased when they are angry. We chose these ancestral spirits as the local god.

Kyzyl, Tyva Republic

Hailed informally as the geographic centre of Asia, the Tyva Republic lies in southern Siberia, just north of the western portion of Mongolia. Urban Tyvans subsist primarily on a market-based economy while rural Tyvans herd sheep, goats, cattle, and/or yaks, This sample was drawn exclusively from the capital city of Kyzyl. Most Tyvans identify as Buddhist, but also engage in religious practices associated with shamanism, animism, and totemism. Buddha-Burgan (‘Buddha God’) functioned as the Moralistic Deity, while an unspecified cher eezi, or ‘master of the place’, a spiritual lord over resources and regions functioned as the Local Deity. The DISTANT co-religionist was from Ak Dovurak, a familiar asbestos- mining town about a 4-hours west of Kyzyl by car. All experiments and interviews were conducted in Tyvan, though some did ask for game instructions in Russian for clarity. The Tyva research group’s efforts to have recruits participate in follow-up sessions were futile. They therefore conducted single sessions, each lasting around 90 min per participant. Four assistants used random, chain and snowball sampling to recruit people who would contact the lead assistant to coordinate meeting places and times. Assistants only divulged that they required up to 90 min of participants’ time and that they would be paid for it. They also encouraged enlisted participants to also recruit more people before their participation, but not after, and they refused all unsolicited candidates. Assistants also asked each participant about all of the information that they knew about the study and everyone conveyed only the allowed information. Assistants recruited people on the basis of their Buddhist and/or Shamanist identification, Tyvan ethnicity, and fluency of the Tyvan language.

Yasawa, Fiji

Yasawa Island is on the northwestern corner of the Fijian archipelago. Yasawans are primarily fisher-horticulturalists. The majority of Yasawans identify as Wesleyan Methodists though a large minority associate with the evangelical Assemblies of God. However, traditional beliefs and practices devoted to ancestor spirits (Kalou-vu or ‘root/ancestor god’) continue to thrive. For this sample, the Moralistic Deity was the Christian ‘Bible God’, while the Kalou-vu represented the Local Deities. Cups for the DISTANT co-religionists in Yasawa were Fijian Christians from another island. The Yasawan protocols were all conducted in Bauan. Indigenous Fijian participants were recruited by invitation based upon their location within the village. The games were played in houses across the village, one on each day. Villagers living closest to those houses were invited to attend in waves of eight participants by Indigenous Fijian research assistants who administered the games and post-game interviews.