The economic – and anthropological? – view of supernatural institutions

Originally published in Religion, Brain & Behavior

Researchers from different disciplines tend to embrace different theoretical frameworks, empirical methods, even scientific outlooks. To expect their views of a given phenomenon to converge is therefore optimistic. If, however, they do converge, that perception of the phenomenon warrants special confidence, for it is robust to alternative disciplinary approaches. Such convergence, I submit, is displayed between et al.’s view and the economic view of variation in supernatural beliefs and practices.

The economic view sees supernatural beliefs and practices as efficient institutional responses to problems of social cooperation (Leeson, 2012, 2013a, 2013b, 2014a, 2014b; Leeson & Coyne, 2012; Maltsev, 2022). Such responses vary with the benefits and/or costs of governing behavior via supernatural incentives, hence with constraints on governing behavior via secular incentives.

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