DOI: 0810.0296Oct 1, 2008Paper

A model for the evolutionary diversification of religions

Michael Doebeli, Iaroslav Ispolatov


We address the problem of diversification in religions by studying selection on cultural memes that colonize humans hosts. In analogy to studying the evolution of pathogens or symbionts colonizing animal hosts, we use models for host-pathogen dynamics known from theoretical epidemiology. In these models, religious memes colonize individual humans. Rates of transmission of memes between humans, i.e., transmission of cultural content, and rates of loss of memes (loss of faith) are determined by the phenotype of the cultural memes, and by interactions between hosts carrying different memes. In particular, based on the notion that religion can lead to oppression of lower classes once a religious society has reached a certain size, we assume that the rate of loss increases as the number of humans colonized by a particular meme phenotype increases. This generates frequency-dependent selection on cultural memes, and we use evolutionary theory to show that this frequency dependence can generate the emergence of coexisting clusters of different meme types. The different clusters correspond to different religions, and hence our model describes the emergence of distinct descendent religions from single ancestral religions.

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