Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict

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Princeton University Press, Aug 25, 2013 - Social Science - 264 pages
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A groundbreaking account of how religion made society possible

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 argument that these fundamental puzzles about the origins of civilization answer each other.

Sincere faith in watchful Big Gods unleashed unprecedented cooperation within ever-expanding groups, yet at the same time it introduced a new source of potential conflict between competing groups. And in some parts of the world, societies with atheist majorities—some of the most cooperative and prosperous in the world—have climbed religion's ladder, and then kicked it away.

Big Gods answers fundamental questions about the origins and spread of world religions and helps us understand the rise of cooperative societies without belief in gods.


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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Kanst - LibraryThing

For some time I've wondered why the Abrahamic faiths have been such an outsized success, particularly considering most religions in history have been polytheist. Big Gods answered that question and ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - vpfluke - LibraryThing

This book deserves a short review if only to list the big ideas. The main thesis of this book is that religion has to be large in order to be trnsformative, particularly for civlizations. Norenzayan ... Read full review


Chapter 1 Religious Evolution
Chapter 2 Supernatural Watchers
Chapter 3 Pressure from Above
Chapter 4 In Big Gods We Trust
Chapter 5 Freethinkers as Freeriders
Chapter 6 True Believers
Chapter 7 Big Gods for Big Groups
Chapter 8 The Gods of Cooperation and Competition
Chapter 9 From Religious Cooperation to Religious Conflict
Chapter 10 Cooperation without God

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About the author (2013)

Ara Norenzayan is professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia. His work has been featured on the BBC and CNN, and in the New York Times Magazine.

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