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Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  169 ratings  ·  16 reviews
How did human societies scale up from tight-knit groups of hunter-gatherers to the large, anonymous, cooperative societies of today--even though anonymity is the enemy of cooperation? How did organized religions with "Big Gods"--the great monotheistic and polytheistic faiths--spread to colonize most minds in the world? In Big Gods, Ara Norenzayan makes the surprising argum ...more
ebook, 264 pages
Published August 25th 2013 by Princeton University Press (first published January 1st 2013)
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3.98  · 
Rating details
 ·  169 ratings  ·  16 reviews

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John Kaufmann
Excellent book! This book is full of big ideas - borderline 5-Stars. The writing was a bit dense at times, but well worth it - stick with it and you will be well-rewarded.

Early human bands were small, composed mostly of kin. Everyone needed each other, and everyone knew each other. Cooperation was essential. Social monitoring could be performed by the group. Reputations could be monitored and social transgressions were difficult to hide. There may have been gods or spirits responsible for the pl
May 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
A fun, informative pop research book about a very interesting topic (the sociological history of religion), written in a language that I love (randomized control trials! natural experiments! the Dictator Game!). The main thesis is that religions that feature supernatural morality monitors - i.e. Big Gods - enabled proto-agricultural settlements to grow beyond the confines of immediate social boundaries. In other words, Big Gods make sure that strangers can cooperate. Hence, you get towns! And th ...more
David López
Aug 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An excellent book with the most modern ideas about religion as a social and psychological phenomena based on hard data and meticulous experiments. Although I cannot rate this excellent because most of the ideas presented are in a very early stage.
A must-read for atheist activism.
Clark Hays
May 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
“Watched people are nice people.”

Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict, by Ara Norenzayan, is likely to offend anyone who has fairly deeply held religious beliefs because it suggests religions, all religions, can be reduced to adaptive evolutionary behaviors unconsciously amplified by the arguably most effective socially cooperative animal on the planet.

It’s a fascinating look at how cognitive adaptions may have (probably) led to religiosity in humans. The basic thrust of
Caleb Mitchum
Dec 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
A nice, well presented, and well researched bit of discourse on how and why religions around the world have developed the way they have. Some of the reference studies seem dubious, however. Many of the studies were done by the same researchers, and many of them were colleagues of the author. This book sits awkwardly between scholarly text and reader friendly presentation, but does so in a way that the discerning reader can navigate with critical suspicion.
James Drain
Jan 30, 2019 rated it liked it
Did you know that Christians distrust atheists as much as Muslims? Apparently that's a thing. The whole deontology thing makes a lot more sense now...
Chimezie Ogbuji
Aug 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The author presents a strong argument on how "the trial-and-error processes of cultural evolution stumbled on super-natural social monitoring"

It is a very compelling scientific argument. The author goes to great lengths to support his argument, almost to the detriment of its readability. Unfortunately, there are many examples where the author shows his ignorance of belief systems that explicitly lack one or other an omniscient deities. Theravada Buddhism, for example, has no notion of a sentient
Apr 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Big Gods is a fascinating summary of the latest research on the cognitive science of religion that makes the case that prosocial religions-- those featuring watchful, interventionist, morally concerned Gods-- spread successfully through cultural competition to enable and accelerate large scale cooperation over the past 12,000 years.

"Only recently, and only in some places, some societies have succeeded in sustaining large-scale cooperation with institutions such as courts, police, and mechanism f
Houssein Hamdoun
Jul 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Read this book as part of the psychology of religion course in my university. The book is dense with information about how religion and human behavior come together, the author supports all of his claims with research done on the various subjects related to psychology of religion. The research papers are cited in the book, allowing the reader to understand the topics more if they wanted to. the book properly summarizes the research that was done, giving the reader the method and the results of t ...more
Margaret Sankey
Feb 27, 2014 rated it liked it
A contemporary psychologist applies research on philanthropy, guilt and cooperation to a theory interesting for POL 150--as neolithic societies became bigger than kin, did big eye in the sky gods enforce morality and cohesion, along with the dangerous byproduct of conflict with the non-cohesive? With a sidelight on how stability and the presence of trusted secular forces can replace the invisible watcher (with Denmark as the exemplar). Good bibliography.
Mar 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very detailed and well-researched history of religion and its role both in early and contemporary human societies. At times I found the main thread of the argument hard to follow throughout the book, and the amount of information/grounds it attempted to cover was slightly overwhelming, but I have to give it 4 stars for its originality of discussion in a very understudied area of psychology.
Michael Kelly
Jul 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Michael Norenzayan presents compelling albeit rather bulky argument for the fundamental role religious belief has played in the development of human societies. He proposes "The Eight Principles of the Big Gods" each of which is developed fairly convincingly. There are a few surprises and challenges to conventional wisdom in his findings which make for an interesting read.
Aug 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Intruiging! Not anything ground shattering, but a good reminder and what religion does for society today.
Christopher Johnson
Feb 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Religion as roadmap for society.
Burl Horniachek
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