Project: Pulotu: Database of Austronesian Religions
Pulotu, the proto-Polynesian word for the abode of the gods, is a database of supernatural beliefs and practices across Austronesian cultures. The database includes 137 Austronesian cultures and 63 variables on religion, history, society, and the natural environment. This database is specifically designed to test evolutionary hypotheses of religious belief and practice, with a primary focus on the traditional state of cultures. A major advantage of Pulotu is that robust language phylogenies are available for Austronesian cultures. This enables the use of phylogenetic comparative methods which provide the ability to reconstruct the states of proto-cultures, account for common ancestry in cross-cultural analysis, and test for correlated evolution between traits.
Publications from this Project:
Watts J, Greenhill SJ, Atkinson QD, Currie TE, Bulbulia J & Gray RD. 2015. Broad supernatural punishment but not moralizing high gods precede the evolution of political complexity in Austronesia. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 20142556.
Supernatural belief presents an explanatory challenge to evolutionary theorists -- it is both costly and prevalent. One influential functional explanation claims that the imagined threat of supernatural punishment can suppress selfishness and enhance cooperation. Specifically, morally concerned supreme deities or 'moralising high gods' have been argued to reduce free-riding in large social groups, enabling believers to build the kind of complex societies that define modern humanity. Previous cross-cultural studies claiming to support the moralising high god hypothesis rely on correlational …Abstract PDF 10.1098/rspb.2014.2556 Overview
Scholars have debated naturalistic theories of religion for thousands of years, but only recently have scientists begun to test predictions empirically. Existing databases contain few variables on religion, and are subject to Galton's Problem because they do not sufficiently account for the non-independence of cultures or systematically differentiate the traditional states of cultures from their contemporary states. Here we present Pulotu: the first quantitative cross-cultural database purpose-built to test evolutionary hypotheses of super-natural beliefs and practices. The Pulotu database …Abstract PDF 10.1371/journal.pone.0136783