Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, Vol 8, No 1 (2014)

The Case for Chimpanzee Religion

James B Harrod
Issued Date: 3 Jun 2014


Do chimpanzees engage in religious behaviors? To date this question remains unanswered. I use methods from religious studies and anthropology of religion that demonstrate an answer in the affirmative. A comprehensive review of primatology reports reveals that chimpanzees do perform ritualized patterns of behavior in response to birth, death, consortship, and elemental natural phenomena. A structuralist analysis of these patterns shows that chimpanzees deploy similar formulaic action schemas involving recombination of syntagmatic and paradigmatic behaviors across all four of these life-situations. In the course of these performances, chimpanzees decontextualize and convert everyday communicative signals to express non-ordinary emotions of wonder and awe. The patterning of chimpanzee ritual behaviors evidences all the components of a prototypical trans-species definition of religion. These findings support hypotheses that propose religious behaviors for other species, including hominins prior to Homo sapiens sapiens.

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DOI: 10.1558/jsrnc.v8i1.8


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