Moralizing Supernatural Punishment and Reward: A Response to Critics
Jennifer Larson, Harvey Whitehouse, Pieter François, Daniel Hoyer, Peter Turchin
In this contribution we respond to three critiques of our 2019 article ‘Complex Societies Precede Moralizing Gods throughout World History.’We clarify that our research does not, as our critics suppose, support the claim that moralizing gods played a decisive role in the development of complex societies. Indeed our goal was to test this claim and we found it wanting. Our methods ‘reduce’neither religion or social complexity in the ways claimed, while our tentative conclusions about the relationship between frequent, routinized ritual and social cohesion are supported by much research beyond the paper under discussion. In the Roman Empire, many forms of collective ritual contributed to the propagation of Romanitas. We have never claimed that this depended on absolute uniformity of belief. Other misconceptions about our supposedly ‘inattentive’qualitative analysis result from misreadings of information in our open-access database, which functions as an evolving set of information relevant to specific research questions rather than a general encyclopedia. Despite these disagreements, we continue to maintain that neither qualitative historical methods nor quantitative analytic approachesalone can produce satisfying answers to causal questions about world history. The best approach, we argue, is to integrate the insights from humanities with‘Big Data’analyses from social science, and we welcome continued engagement and collaborationacrosstraditionaldisciplinary boundaries.