The Cultural Evolution of Prosocial Religions Field Sites

Wave 1 – 2012-2015


Coastal and Inland Tanna Island, Vanuatu

The inhabitants of Tanna Island in Vanuatu are traditionally swidden horticulturalists although a market-based economy plays an increasingly important role on the island. Religious beliefs are a mix of Christianity and the traditional “Kastom” pantheon, as well as millenarian “cargo cults”. The study was conducted at two sites on Tanna:  a cluster of three inland, predominantly Kastom hamlets that rely almost exclusively on subsistence farming for food production, and a wealthier coastal, Christian village in which home production accounts for about two thirds of food consumption.

Hadzaland, Tanzania

In the savannah woodlands of western Tanzania, the Hadza are a population of hunter-gatherers who largely subsist on wild game, fruits, tubers and honey. While the Hadza have been described as having a minimalist form of religion, this appears to be changing. The majority of Hadza (~80%) claim to believe in the existence of a god (Haine) but of those, many do not know or do not think God has supernatural capabilities.

Lovu, Fiji

On the south pacific island of Vanua Levu, in main island in the Fijian archipelago, the Indo-Fijians are a diaspora population brought to Fiji from India by the British as indentured workers. They are primarily wage laborers or sugar cane farmers. The Indo-Fijians are mostly Hindus and Muslims with a minority of Sikhs and Christians. The present sample consisted of Hindu Indo-Fijians from Lovu village on the island of Viti Levu. The participants were all wage laborers or unemployed. Though there are many gods in the Hindu tradition, the participants believed that all gods are aspects of one single God.

Pointe aux Piments, Mauritius

About 1200 miles off the coast of southeastern Africa lies a cluster of islands that make up the nation of Mauritius. Though historically dependent largely on sugar exports, Mauritius has developed into a diversified, market-based, monetized economy in recent decades. The main employment sectors include manufacturing, tourism, financial services, information technology, fish processing, and construction. Rural areas continue to rely on horticulture and fishing for subsistence. The study was conducted in the coastal rural village of Pointe aux Piments, which lacks industrial development. The majority of the local population is of low or middle income, employed mainly in fishing, agriculture, tourism, and other services. The village has a religiously mixed population, with Christians and Hindus each making up approximately 45% of the total.

Pesqueiro, Brazil

Pesqueiro is a small fishing village on the east side of Marajó Island at the mouth of the Amazon River. Subsistence is primarily market-based, relying on fish sales in the nearby town of Soure and a growing tourism industry. The majority of inhabitants identify as Catholic, though there is a minority of Evangelical Protestants.

Kyzyl, Tyva Republic

Part of the Russian Federation, the Tyva Republic lies in southern Siberia, at the center of the Asian continent. Urban Tyvans subsist primarily on a market-based economy while rural Tyvans rely significantly more on produce provided by livestock (sheep, goats, cattle, yaks). As the study was conducted in the capital city of Kyzyl, the present sample consisted of urban Tyvans. The majority of Tyvans identify as Buddhist, but regularly engage in traditional religious practices associated with shamanism, animism, and totemism.

Yasawa, Fiji

Yasawa Island lies at the northwestern corner of the Fijian archipelago. Yasawans subsist primarily as fisher-horticulturalists. The present sample consists mainly of villagers living closest to the only resort on Yasawa Island as of July 2013. As such, this village has had the highest population of residents with the most extensive and frequent interaction with a resort. All Yasawans identify as Christian, with a majority practicing as Wesleyan Methodists and a large minority practicing as Assemblies of God evangelicals. Additionally, their Christian beliefs and practices coexist alongside beliefs about traditional deified ancestor spirits that can bring illness, misfortune, and death to those who deviate from proper traditional Fijian social norms, often at the behest of sorcerers.


Wave 2 – 2014-ongoing

For Wave 2, we’ve expanded our field site sample to 13 general regions, including comparative sub-samples within these sites. We’ve also expanded the experimental protocols.