The Evolutionary Forms of the Religious Life: A Cross-Cultural, Quantitative Analysis



ABSTRACT  Previous cross-cultural studies of religion's evolution that employed Swanson's High Gods measure are plagued by methodological difficulties, especially the lack of proper statistical controls. Here, we attempted to rectify this, using the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample to test five hypotheses employing multivariate statistical techniques. Results provided weak support for Swanson's Sovereign Groups hypothesis concerning High Gods and also limited support for a previously unexplored factor: writing and record keeping. In phase two of the study, we introduced a new measure, the Stage of Religious Evolution, based on Anthony Wallace's typology. When this new dependent variable was substituted for High Gods, much stronger results were obtained. The best predictors of Stage of Religious Evolution were mode of subsistence economy, writing and record keeping, and total population size. These findings allowed us to construct a new evolutionary interpretation of the development of different modes of religious life.