Variation in the Structure and Role of Religious Institutions: Examples from pre-Columbian America
Martín, Alexander J.
Sol Castillo, Ricardo Felipe
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Research on religious behavior has stressed its character as a cognitive complex that evolved during the Pleistocene to incentivize prosocial behavior and serves roughly similar population management roles regardless of social context. To explore this idea, we reconstructed religious institutional structure for three pre- Columbian societies using a key feature or religious organization: the basal congregation size—a critical axis of population management and for the creation of shared communal identities. Results show that in places where populations could fission to avoid intra-community conflict, religious institutions show no real evidence of internal community management. In locations where large towns meant more internal conflict, religious institutions mapped themselves over the extended family, creating small congregations that provided the mid-level organizational tiers necessary to support larger communities. Finally, for populations organized into regional polities, religious institutions used large ritual assemblies and conspicuous paraphernalia to invoke our Pleistocene cognitive predispositions for altruistic and cooperative behavior towards close-kin, but redirected them towards the large, non-kin religious community. This variation highlights the malleable and reactive nature of religious institutions, which interact quite differently with their constituent members or their cognitive predispositions depending on the social needs they look to resolve.
- Antropología