The evolution of global religions

Authors

EJOVA Anastasia SHEEHAN Oliver GREENHILL Simon J CIGÁN Jakub KOTHEROVÁ Silvie KRÁTKÝ Jan KUNDT Radek KUNDTOVÁ KLOCOVÁ Eva WATTS Joseph BOUCKAERT Remco ATKINSON Quentin D. BULBULIA Joseph GRAY Russell D.

Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Citation
Description While accounting for the religious beliefs of about 80% of the world’s population, the five dominant global religions - Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism - are divided into hundreds of sects. What processes produced this unity amidst fragmentation over time? To date, historians have focused on describing patterns of cross-national unity and fragmentation over time within each global religion separately. However, to understand the mechanisms fostering unity across religious lines in the modern globalised world, it is necessary to identify any processes of unification common to multiple world religions. Using computational methods developed in biology, we compare world religions in terms of patterns of schism (fragmentation) over time – patterns represented as evolutionary trees (phylogenies). In Buddhism, pre-Reformation Christianity and Islam, we observe early diversity reined in by empires that sponsored the religions as ideologies of state. In Protestant Christianity and Hinduism, we observe consistent unbridled diversity of belief, attributable to the fact that sponsoring empires subscribed to ideologies that placed only loose constraints on belief content. The ideals guiding Protestant European colonial empires and various Hindu empires– modern capitalism and the caste system, respectively – have been argued to be economic. However, these ideals also had a grounding in religious ethics; specifically, in the motivation to be a trustworthy “tool of the divine will” under Protestantism, and in the motivation to maintain purity under Hinduism. In evidence of a gradual movement towards global ethical and economic unification, we observe increasing diversity of belief loosely constrained by Protestant ethics and capitalist institutions in post-19th century Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as post-17th century Judaism. Overall, our findings demonstrate how systematic approaches from natural science can combine with historical inquiry to suggest that ideological unity amidst diversity is possible under a higher order ideology combining ethical and economic principles.
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