Monday, July 28, 2008

Correlation between cultural complexity and moral gods

I have just been checking some references from Darwin’s Cathedral. A 2001 article by Stark caught my attention. It investigates the type of correlation religion has to moral order. The basic finding is that religion only sustains the moral order if it is based on a belief in morally concerned gods. Stating Stark’s (pp. 621) hypotheses may lessen the apparent tautology.

“H1 In many societies, religion and morality will not be linked.
H2. This linkage will tend to be limited to more complex cultures.
H3. The effects of religiousness on individual morality are contingent on images of gods as conscious, morally-concerned beings; religiousness based on impersonal or unmoral gods will not influence moral choices.
H4. Participation in religious rites and rituals will have little or no independent effect on morality.”

For data Stark referenced Murdock’s Atlas of World Cultures (1981 as cited in Stark, 2001)*. The following table was produced.

According to Stark, all four hypotheses were strongly confirmed. For me, the most interesting hypotheses are H2 and H3.

It would be interesting to see how the third hypothesis could be investigated in quasi-religious organizations. For instance, do similar classes of quasi-religions have a correlation between their cultural complexity and the group’s mean belief in fundamental moral directing codes? (On a further note, is belief in a divine moral being needed or just belief in self-existing moral directing codes?)

For instance, formal education seems to have some very resilient core moral like structures. Education is very resistant to change. On average it takes 20 years for any educational change to be broadly diffused and 50 years to be ubiquitous (Tyack & Cuban, 1994). One possible explanation is that those involved in education protect deep seated core values. These values tend to be informed by the larger societal factors in which educators are raised. Correlating the cultural complexity of organizations to their belief in fundamental moral directing codes would be interesting. (For those who are interested, discourses on the importance of vision in large organizations provides some good background). I would suspect that individuals in culturally complex organizations have greater group morality when they believe in self-existing organization moral codes.

To explain this simply, if you believe that there are some fundamental moral codes in an organization it is likely you will be less tolerant of people who are breaking the organization’s supposed morals. The more you believe the moral codes are real, the less tolerant you will be of deviance from them. Actions that affirm the reality of the moral codes have no significant influence.


*Of course one would be very wise to do a sample of the original coding to test for accuracy. I also wonder whether distinguishing between religions with an implicit moral function instead of just overt moral function would prove significant?

Stark, R. (2001), Gods, rituals, and the moral order, Journal for the Scientific study of Religion 40(1), pp. 610-636.

Tyak & Cuban (1995) Tinkering toward utopia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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