Phylogenetics of Religion

Peter Turchin

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Question: What was the word for “two” used by people living in the Pontic-Caspian steppes (modern Ukraine and Southern Russia) 5,000 years ago?

Answer: *dwóH₁

This is how historical linguists reconstruct “two” in the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language (see Indo-European vocabulary on Wikipedia). And now evidence accumulates that PIE speakers belonged to what archaeologists call the Yamnaya culture. Sure, there is still a bit of a controversy lingering about some aspects of this reconstruction, but recent aDNA evidence, in my opinion, has quite decisively put a wooden stake into the heart of  the alternative Anatolian hypothesis. Of course, nothing in science is 100% certain (if you want certainty, your best recourse is Divine Revelation). But to me, 99% certainty is good enough.

At a very fundamental level, historical linguists can reconstruct the PIE vocabulary with a high degree of certainty because language change is an example of cultural evolution. Or, as Darwin could have said, it’s ”descent with modification.” Many aspects of language change slowly and in a remarkably law-like manner. For example, I never studied German and don’t intend to do so formally. But I’d like to learn the language as I will be spending a lot of time in Austria in the next five years. So I listen to announcements on the bus and eavesdrop on other passengers. When walking in the streets of Vienna I play the game “figure out the the meaning of this word” (on a street sign or advertisement). The game goes like this: if the first letter in a German word is “z”, try substituting it with “t”; if “t”, with “d”, “d” with “th” and so on. Replace a “b” in the middle with “v” (see here). In many cases you will recover a word that is remarkably like its English equivalent. For example, the mysterious “Diebe” after substitutions becomes “thieve”–thieves!

Back to the PIE. It is absolutely remarkable that we can reconstruct how a word sounded 5,000 years ago—and remember, the Yamnaya people had no writing!

Historical linguistics is clearly the best developed case-study of phylogenetic reconstruction in cultural evolution. But why stop with language—what about religion? My good friend and colleague David Sloan Wilson has long argued that we should use the methods of evolutionary science in the study of religion (read his great book, The Darwin’s Cathedral). Religions evolve. Early Christianity evolved from Judaism. It then split into different branches: Monophysites, Arians, Chalcedonians, …, with Chalcedonians splitting later into the Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic branches. Indic religion gave rise to Hinduism and Buddhism, with the latter splitting into Hinayana and Mahayana branches.

Of course, it’s not only descent with modification; different languages and religions also borrow elements from each other. The tree model of linguistic evolution needs to be supplemented by reticulations connecting different branches. And so do trees of religions (reticulations denoted with broken lines):

These ideas have been much on my mind during the past year. With the publication of our Nature article on moralizing gods the Seshat project has broken new ground—we are now testing evolutionary theories of religion. Some critics charged that we are trying to do the impossible. Texts and records become sparse as you go back in time. And once you go to the time before writing, they maintain, you cannot say anything about religion.

But that’s clearly wrong. If historical linguists can reconstruct the sounds of languages that disappeared well before writing was invented, why shouldn’t we able to do the same with religion? In fact, it is already being done.

I just finished reading a remarkable book by one of Seshat contributors, Patrick Kirch, co-authored with Roger Green. In Hawaiki, Ancestral Polynesia, published in 2001, Kirch and Green develop the phylogenetic model and apply it to cultural evolution in the Pacific Ocean before the Europeans arrived there (note: the Polynesians never developed writing!). They use a “triangulation method” in which historical linguistics, archaeology, comparative ethnology, and biological anthropology are integrated for the purpose of historical reconstruction. And I would add that in the eighteen years since they published the book, we have acquired an additional powerful source of information: ancient DNA.

An integrated approach is key. For example, historical linguistics is not great at timing when different languages split (it is now clear that glottochronology is much more difficult than initially thought). But archaeology fills this gap by telling us when people arrived at different islands. And so on. Where one avenue of reconstruction fails, another comes to rescue.

Kirch and Green use the phylogenetic model to yield extraordinary insights into the world of Ancestral Polynesians: which islands they inhabited before colonizing most of the Pacific, what they ate and how they prepared their food, how their material culture and socio-political organization evolved, and how their rituals and beliefs about gods and ancestors changed with time.

From their reconstruction it is clear that such fundamental concepts as mana and tapu were well-established in Ancestral Polynesia, but they also have undergone additional evolution in different branches occupying different archipelagos in the Pacific. The deification and ritual supplication of ancestors was also virtually universal.

Of particular interest is their reconstruction of what they call “an elaboration of the pantheon” which particularly affected the Eastern Polynesian societies. First to be added to the single Proto-Polynesian god, *Taangaloa (* indicates reconstruction) was a god of war, *Tu(q)u. Later four more named gods were added to the pantheon. These innovations were accompanied by an elaboration of the ritual. As an example, Kirch and Green suggest that an important innovation during the Proto Central-Eastern Polynesian phase was *tiki (“carved human image”).

Central-Eastern Polynesians (CEP) are of great interest to us, because one of the regions that we code in the Seshat World Sample-30 is Hawaii, which belongs to this branch. Although Kirch and Green don’t directly address the moralizing aspects of the Polynesian religion, Patrick Kirch has been very helpful in answering questions about moralizing supernatural punishment (MSP) that members of the Seshat project posed to him.

According to our informal and very tentative reconstruction (which still needs more expert advice!), there are clear MSP elements in Hawaiian religion. In particular, the kapu system (tapu/tabu in other Polynesian languages), which denotes what is sacred or forbidden (for more information, see this article on Wikipedia), included injunctions against deceit, theft, and murder. But these moralizing elements were of secondary concern compared to ritual infractions. Furthermore, offenses against kapu were primarily policed by human agents (chiefs and their retinues), rather than by supernatural agents (spirits and gods).

Our survey of Hawaii’s “sister cultures” (Maori, Rarotonga, Tahiti, Tuamotu, and the Marquesas) suggests that even these, relatively weak, MSP elements were largely absent in other CEP branches, with a possible exception of the Marquesas, where theft and murder also could be subject to supernatural punishments (but with the same limitations as in Hawaii). The idea of punishment/reward in the afterlife appears to be universally absent in all Polynesian cultures.

This survey raises a number of intriguing questions. Are MSP elements, which we see in Hawaii, a relatively recent innovation? Note that Hawaii was settled by colonists from the Marquesas. It is perhaps significant that MSP elements in the CEP are found only in these two cultures.

All of this is quite speculative—remember that I often use my blog as a platform for airing new ideas and soliciting comments and critique. What we need is the application of the phylogenetic model to this question by specialists on Polynesian culture (of which I am, most assuredly, not one). Careful reconstruction using the triangulation method of Kirch and Green could be complemented by more quantitative Bayesian phylogenetic models that have been developed by such cultural evolutionists as Ruth Mace and Russell Gray. In fact, Gray’s group recently (in 2015) published a Bayesian analysis of moralizing religion in Austronesia (a broader linguistic grouping that includes the Polynesians). I am in contact with the first author of the article, Joseph Watts, about the details of their data and analyses.

In conclusion, Polynesia (and, more broadly, Austronesia) is a great “polygon” that has served us well in developing a variety of approaches for reconstructing cultural evolution of prehistoric societies. But it’s not the only one. Take Indo-Europeans. Jean Haudry in 1993 compared oath formulas from a number of Indo-European languages (Old Norse, Russian, Sanskrit, and Persian) and found that they share the image of the perjurer struck by his own weapon. Was this MSP element present in the PIE culture? There is a great potential for employing the phylogenetic model to reconstruct not only past languages, but also elements of past religions. And this potential has hardly been tapped.

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Peter Payne

Addressing only the second paragraph of this very interesting article: when I was a child (I am now 74) I became fascinated with a book my father had: The Loom of Language, by Hogben. Focusing mainly on Romance and `Germanic languages, it traced many of these connections and transformations, both in spelling and in grammar, and made exactly the point Peter is making, about making learning another language easier. In recent life I rediscovered the book, and it really is very useful!

Eva Basilion

Hi Peter, I would like to point out an error. It is well established that the Greek Orthodox Church was the original Christian Church and that the other denominations you mentioned represent later schisms from Orthodoxy. In addition, as these are considered schisms, I don’t believe that the word “evolution” accurately represents the historical record. These are major errors which frankly have me questioning your entire hypothesis.

Paolo

Eva both Rome and costantinople call himself original. Both call himself catholic (Universal) and orthodox (correct). Rome base the claim on the First pope (true was in Rome), greek on the First church (true in bizantium). The conflict inside early Cristianaty was 6 century long but when the split became formal, in 11th century, the (only) pope was in Rome: so it’s very difficult from a history point of view define the question. Scism or Evolution? Chinese are scism or Evolution of homo sapiens? Evolution of a little different kind of humanity

Keith Akers

Is there anyone using these ideas (or is there any hope of using them) on early Christianity prior to 325 CE? “Historical Jesus” scholarship consistently gives us radically different pictures of Jesus, even among liberal non-dogmatic scholars. Some argue (Hans-Joachim Schoeps, at least) that early Christianity before 325 was already unusually diverse, with many compromises and much syncretism. This might mean that using this method is hopeless in analyzing early Christianity, sort of like understanding the evolution of English to understand the relationship between Italian and Polish (can we do this??), but I’d be fascinated if we could use this to gather some clues.

Loren Petrich

There is a theory on the origins of Christianity that is often dismissed as a fringe theory. Jesus mythicism. It is the idea that there was no historical Jesus Christ behind the JC of the New Testament and the noncanoical Gospels. IMO, the most plausible form of that theory was proposed by Earl Doherty and Richard Carrier.

It states that JC was originally a sort of archangel who eventually got interpreted as having a human history. Paul’s letters are the first documents of Christianity, and JC appears in it as a heavenly figure who issues revelations. Then came the Gospel of Mark, which the Doherty-Carrier theory states is an extended allegory about this archangel. But some people interpreted it as literal history, and expanded on it in Matthew and Luke, incorporating much of Mark word-for-word. Matthew and Luke either had an additional source, “Q”, or else Luke was a rewrite of Matthew. Later was John, with a completely different take.

Mythicism explains why there were lots of different versions of Christianity in its early years, with only one version of it later getting official favor and becoming the familiar one.

Some historicists counter that by mentioning the Haile Selassie scenario, as it may be called. Haile Selassie was Emperor of Ethiopia in the mid 20th cy., but the Rastafarian sect of Jamaica turned him into a messiah figure that had little connection with the original. But such historicists advocate what may be called semi-mythicism, that what we find in the Gospels is a mixture of fact and fiction.

Keith Akers

Thanks for your response. I’m aware of the theory that Jesus was a myth, like Robin Hood or King Arthur. The best representative of this position is likely Dr. Robert M. Price (The Christ-Myth Theory and its Problems), but there are many others. I find this position unlikely, because then you have to ask, is Paul also a myth? What about John the Baptist and James the brother of Jesus? Are these people — for whom we have clear extra-Biblical evidence — also myths?

But the question you ask, “why there were lots of different versions of Christianity in its early years, with only one version of it later getting official favor and becoming the familiar one,” is excellent and goes to the heart of the problem. I was going to go take this in a different direction; the answer to your question is, “because the original Jerusalem Church, which should have been the authority on Jesus, lost out in these inter-church struggles.” There is actually some objective evidence for this church, but we have to get into arcane stuff like the Ebionites, the pseudo-Clementine literature, and Epiphanius who writes about the Ebionites (which is where Hans-Joachim Schoeps comes in). Phylogenetics (I speculated) might be able to parse out these relationships and identify, for example, how much of the Jerusalem Church was influenced by the Qumran Essenes, by the Essenes of Philo and Porphyry, and by the neo-Pythagoreans. Or it may be all so long ago that it’s hopelessly lost, sort of like trying to deduce the relationship between Italian and Polish by looking at the recent history of the English language.

Peter van den Engel

There has been a real liberal movement in the traditional religion at the time, which was not a.myth and its likely there were real Joseph and Maria parents, not registering there extra-marital sun in Bethlehem for political reasons although they went there; that’s why he officially did not exist in the records; and a Roman crucifixion of such a liberal figure is also very likely to have happened, because the conventional elites were affraid to loose power, and their recognised financed position by the Romans.

Also the transformation of letters into others in language does not explain why and which meanings were transferred from one culture into the other, so it is not as demythologized as supposed.
It only shows a direction.
And probably later cultures had lower standards, because otherwise they would not have copied it.

VLADIMIR DINETS

No, we don’t have any non-Biblical evidence for James, except for one fake tombstone with matching names.

Keith Akers

1. Josephus. 2. Numerous early church fathers, including Hegesippus, Epiphanius, etc. etc. etc. 3. Various “heretical” sources such as the pseudo-Clementine literature.

Loren Petrich

As to early Christian sects, there is a serious problem. We may not have a good picture of many of them. That’s because most of what has survived about them has been comments about them by theologians in the sect that won the official support of the Empire.

Keith Akers

I worked on this quite a bit some decades ago and tried to construct a “positive” view of the Ebionites. We have the pseudo-Clementine literature which is largely Ebionite in origin and direct quotes from the Ebionite gospel from Epiphanius, so it is not all negative stuff. I think that if there is a true “phylogenetics of religion,” as the post suggests, we should be able to disentangle at least some of this, and it would be nice to do so in an area about which I have been intensely curious. The distance from the Ebionites, Josephus, the Catholics, and the Mandaeans (to cite three very divergent sources) to John the Baptist is probably considerably less than the distance from English to Polish. We could start with John the Baptist because (unless you are a Mandaean) people don’t get quite as emotional about John than about Jesus. In fact, if you couldn’t say ANYTHING about John the Baptist based on this idea, I’d consider it a strike against the whole project.

Eva Basilion

Paolo, The Greek Orthodox Church was the original church. This is firmly established (unless maybe you are Catholic).

The word is schism.

Ross Hartshorn

The Egyptian Coptic Christian Church does not seem to agree. The precise date of the earliest Christian Church in Ethiopia also seems to be debatable, but undoubtedly very early. “Firmly established” does not seem to be the consensus.

Timothy Doran

Eva Basilion, you are utilizing a biased view from (as one may guess by your last name) the point of view of someone raised in the Greek Orthodox Church, and you are presenting it as “firmly established.” The Catholic Church has a different view. So do various scholars. One could easily state that the original church was not Greek but a pre-orthodox system of religion among the earliest followers of Jesus.

Eva Basilion

Yes, the Catholic Church has a different view.

Peter van den Engel

In my view language tended to soften, since people could not remember, or did not hear the harsh sound of a consonent very well.
In the case of religion the proces was inverted: it started as a vague abstract concept and got lower (descended): heavier (more practicle (over time.

In China the elites came up with a pretty decent explanation of contrary powers, like day and night, male and female (yin yang), which acted in harmony as discription of reality/ but the people did not act accordingly (fighting chaos) so they had to teach them martial arts, like a dance. To settle the problem.

Evolition travels east to west/ although animalistic religions could have emerged there before as well. The highest concept started in China. Where the masses ended travelling towards the light.

Because their concept was to vague and abstract for commons, it translated later on into human powers (gods) with a family character, in hinduism stretching to Egyptian an Greec religion.

When gods could be human, there might be an afterlife fo humans too. Human children could be concepted by a god as well.
In the case of reincarnation (India), religion did not believe in an afterlife yet/ but still contained the idea of a judgement of lifetime projected on the self after death, transition.

The one god concept and humans duty (opportunity) to do well: act good, was already founded in Persia (Sarathustra), so it was not an original christian or islam concept.
But it brought everything back again to one origin/ although still human and not perse abstract anymore. It had become an intention as meaning.

One difference is religion contains a potential for reduction, or restriction: obay the rules or else punishment/ but it can also prophesize an emerging of the self into a higher, better being, which is contrary to that. It has a total different meaning.
This last aspect also translated into economy: construct a good material life and you do the will of god. This has even stretched to bankers believing they act the will of god.
If only they knew the difference between right and wrong.

It’s a complex but very interesting evolution.

True Fezer Wolff

Thank you, Peter, for an intriguing post.
Two comments:
It is not true that Polynesians had no writing. There is the as yet undeciphered Rongorongo of Easter Island (Rapa Nui).
There has been some intense and excellent research into the origins of fairy tales and folk tales, very similar to the historical linguistic reconstructions of PIE.

David Vognar

Very interesting. I read somewhere once that a person’s language also shapes the way that person thinks by providing linguistic rules and logical rules. Nonstandard uses of language, both through thinking and expression, probably promote nonstandard perspectives. Possibly apropos, the study of the evolution of emotional language: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/366/6472/1517?utm_campaign=SciMag&utm_source=JHubbard&utm_medium=Facebook

Richard Theodore Beck

First time responder…

Yes David, a rudimentary illustration of the theory that “a person’s language also shapes the way that person thinks” can be found in Steinbeck”s The Pearl. Because the islanders have never ventured far from their island, the horizon (but not beyond) being the limit of their experience, their language only expresses the present. Hence, the theme of the book…they had no future or free will until they find the pearl [a metaphor for the apple (knowledge/evil)] which causes them to think futuristically. This thinking requires new linguistic rules and new social rules.

George Santayana’s work on emotive words, poetry, and religion might be apropos in reference to “the evolution of emotional language.”

Ross Hartshorn

Interesting post! Eventually, comparing phylogenetic trees from language, DNA, religion, fairy tales, etc. could give a reconstructed pre-history that is more reliable than any individual one (e.g. if three of the trees agree but a fourth doesn’t, the odd one out is probably from lateral adoption rather than descent).

Religion will be more challenging to keep civil debate on than even language or DNA, though. Good luck!

Loren Petrich

This issue reminds me of efforts to reconstruct Proto-Indo-European mythology and religion.

Only a few deity names can be recovered, and the most prominent of these is *dyeus ph2ter, “Father Sky” (PIE had name-title rather than title-name word order). He was a god of the bright, shining sky. His name is reconstructed from Vedic Dyaus Pitar, Greek Zeus Pater, Roman Juppiter (< Jovis Pater), Old English Tiu, Old Norse Tyr, etc.

There was also *h2eusos, a goddess of the dawn, whose name simply meant "Dawn", though she was less prominent.

There was a god of thunder and lightning and war, a god who likes to wield a cudgel or an ax or a hammer (Thor's Hammer). His name is usually reconstructed as *perkwunos, appearing as Slavic Perun and Lithuanian Perkunas. It has some rather odd cognates, like Latin quercus "oak" and English "fir" (conifer tree). His name is also Gaulish Taranis and Old Norse Thor, names cognate with English "thunder". Thus being "Mr. Thunder". PIE *(s)ten- His name is Vedic Indra, from *h2ner-, with Greek anêr, andr- as a cognate. Thus being "The Man".

Oak trees were sacred to this deity because of their getting struck by lightning, though I quickly thought of a mechanistic explanation: oak trees can grow very large and tall, and being tall attracts lightning.

Loren Petrich

I’ve seen a reconstruction of a creation story: there were once twin brothers, *manus “Man” and *yemos “Twin”. Man sacrified Twin, dismembered him, and built the familiar Universe from his remains. The most familiar attested version is likely the creation of the familiar Universe from Ymir’s body parts in Old Norse mythology.

This is likely the origin of the story of Romulus and Remus, where Romulus means “Roman (man)” and Remus’s name was made to alliterate with Romulus’s name. For R&R, the creation of the Universe was scaled down to the creation of Rome.

I also note Georges Dumézil’s three functions of Proto-Indo-European society:
* Sovereignty
* Military Force
* Economic Productivity

Sovereignty is divided in two:
* The supernatural world
* Human society

This is reconstructed from several sources, one of them being the Hindu caste system:
* Brahman – sovereign
* Kshatriya – military
* Vaisya – productive
* Shudra – lower-class productive (later)
* Dalit or Untouchable – lowest-class productive (later)

steven t johnson

The sort of thing the post is talking about really seems to be more like the work of Joseph Greenberg, the linguist. So far as I can tell, the basic outline is fairly sound, one person simply isn’t going to get it all right. But as I understand it, many, like Daniel Everett, think this sort of thing is entirely wrong-headed. The prevailing belief is that reconstructing protoIndoEuropean is probably about as far as we can go.

And in religion, the thing really seems to include work like Witzel’s Origins of the World’s Mythologies. That seems to be so lightly regarded it is not even discussed in polite company.

Loren Petrich

I think that Joseph Greenberg’s work is a poor example, because it is widely dismissed as speculative or unsupportable. That is not to say that it won’t ever be considered well-supported, however.

Indo-European and its subfamilies are *much* better examples, because they have gotten a *lot* of study over the past couple of centuries, and because their language relationships are clear enough to be undoubted.

There is a further analogy with languages. People often borrow words from other languages, and they may also borrow phonological and grammatical features. In Old English, /f/ and /v/ were allophones, with /f/ at the beginning and end of words, and /v/ in the middle. It survives in Modern English wolf / wolves and similar plurals. But then came the Norman Conquest, with a lot of borrowed words where /f/ and /v/ are a phonemic distinction, like between “fealty” and “veal”. That’s why Modern English treats /f/ and /v/ as separate phonemes.

Such borrowings can create what linguists call sprachbunds, and one of them is “Standard Average European”, features common in European languages but rare elsewhere. Like passive-voice constructions with a copula verb: English “it is known”. A common non-SAE alternative to it is mediopassive constructions, using reflexives as passives, like in Spanish “se habla español” (“Spanish speaks itself / is spoken”), Slavic languages, Proto-Indo-European, etc.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_Average_European

Vic

The USA is getting crasier and crasier. How about some blog posts on the situation there? (BTW, it occured to me that posting on this subject too much might have become quite dangerous for someone in your position…)

Loren Petrich

It is clear from our host’s work that the US is in a disintegrative period. That’s why our host has titled his recent US-history book “Ages of Discord”. Being divided into hostile factions is part of being in such a period.

The United States has had two major parties for almost as long as it has existed, making it a textbook example of Duverger’s law. Additional parties have come and gone, sometimes disappearing into one or the other of the two major parties.

But a recent development is factions in the two parties that have acted like additional parties. The Tea Party is an obvious one, and it worked inside the Republican Party. Donald Trump seems like some Tea Party candidate. A similar faction has more recently appeared in the Democratic Party, one without a widely-agreed-on name, though I like “Herbal Tea Party”.

Also notable is the Republican Party’s obstruction of Obama and the recent Democratic House. Mitch McConnell has led that effort, and he bragged about keeping Obama from confirming another Supreme Court Justice and several Federal judges – he once laughed as he recalled that latter triumph. Most recently, he has blocked some 400 bills passed by the House. Someone recently did a printout of all of them, and the printout was about 3 ft / 1 m tall.

Loren Petrich

Our host has already written some blog entries on the US’s continuing into its disintegrative phase: http://peterturchin.com/cliodynamica/popular/

He has also written a book on that, “Ages of Discord” – http://peterturchin.com/ages-of-discord/

I wish to comment that Donald Trump is a *very* anomalous president. Most other presidents have previously been elected to some other office, like vice president, senator, or state governor. The exceptions have either headed some civilian government agency or else have been military commanders – more governmental experience. Although his business record is very bad, he nevertheless became a celebrity, and he was successful in playing a businessman on “The Apprentice”.

Nevertheless, he defeated several other fellow candidates, most with elected-office experience – senators and governors. The exceptions were a businesswoman who rose within the ranks of some existing businesses, and a neurosurgeon. He was not afraid of seeming immature with name-calling like “Low-Energy Jeb” Bush, “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz, “Little Marco” Rubio, and “Look at that face!” about the businesswoman, Carly Fiorina.

He was also not afraid of being openly bigoted, like about Mexicans and Muslims, and he has shown a fondness for autocrats and strongmen like Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Kim Jong Un, Rodrigo Duterte, Mohammed bin Salman, and Jair Bolsonaro — a greater fondness than for fellow leaders of democracies.

Loren Petrich

More Donald Trump anomalies. He is very lazy and impulsive. Most other presidents are much more diligent, something often true of those with academic and/or career success. His speeches have a low readability-score grade level (Flesch-Kincaid): 4th grade, instead of a more typical score of 8th or 9th grade.

Just for fun, let’s imagine that Donald Trump came across “Ages of Discord”. He’d find that book too long for him to want to read, and he’d get one of his underlings to summarize it for him. He’d then say “A-ha! I knew it! My presidency is the beginning of another great era for America, another integ-whatsit era!”

Walter Sobchak

Should Seshat be pronounced Ses•hat or Se•shat?

Edward Turner

There is no such thing as a phylogenetic tree of religion based on linguistics as language reflects only a tiny part of the whole spectrum of what constitution a religion.

A religion is also made up of non-verbal religious ceremonies, rituals, practices, symbols, buildings, institutional structures that evolve and can tell a different story to what the literature is saying. A quite shockingly different one.

Lateran Palace with St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican City is the classic example. If you didn’t have any words to go on and were just relying on a simple comparative archaeology you would have a very different evolutionary tree.

Arguably a true phylogenetic tree of religion must contain elements of the entire spectrum of religion. Using linguistics alone will send you around and around in circles getting nowhere.

Jsj

Did you even read the article?

I think not

Edward Turner

I reacted to the illustration that invited me to read the article and the opening paragraphs. Turns out that was click-bait as the main part of the article was about Polynesia.

If the whole-spectrum method used to reconstruct the Polynesian religion was used on every religion that would be interesting.

Seems to me that wouldn’t be done. People look in a book to decide what the major religions are. Only when we don’t have books, like in Polynesia, do we get a more balanced picture of what a religion is.

When constructing a true phylogenetic tree of Eurasian religions in order to prevent bias you should consult linguistic sources last of all.

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