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Why is Religion Characterized by Excess and Non-Functionality?

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

AbstractThe excess and non-functionality of religious practices appear designed to exploit the psychological effects of loss aversion and effort justification in individuals. Collective rituals, for example, include features that seem to maximize these effects inducing pure waste states in its practitioners. I argue that these psychological effects provide Wiebe with a proximate mechanism specific to religion that explains why religion may be particularly effective in building distinct groups. I propose, however, that religion may originally have developed as a technology that exploits loss aversion and effort justification in individuals to recycle their wasted efforts through narratives about gods and magical causation. This recycling technology may, at a later stage, have developed into institutionalized religion which exploits the same psychological effects of loss aversion and effort justification but for social functional purposes. Whether this later development was caused by a growing need for hazard precaution is an open question.

Affiliations: 1: Religion, Cognition, and Culture, MINDLabAarhus UniversityJeus Chr. Skous Vej 3, 8000Aarhus


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