Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, Vol 14, No 1 (2020)

Weathering the Storm: Supernatural Belief and Cooperation in an Insecure World

Rita Anne McNamara
Issued Date: 5 Aug 2020


Religious and supernatural beliefs may facilitate social life by promoting and sustaining cooperation, but the specific cooperation problems each society faces may lead to unique belief systems adapted to local socioecological conditions. As societies mix and belief systems spread, local and introduced belief systems may present conflicting solutions to the same social problem. How do we choose among these different solutions? The present study recruits participation from villagers living on Yasawa Island, Fiji (n = 179) who espouse both Christian and Traditional beliefs that promote different expectations about local and distant others. This study focuses on the relationships among existential/resource insecurity and supernatural beliefs across these belief systems using an experimental priming procedure and a dictator game to allocate food resources. Though reminders of insecurity had no impact on allocations, the effects of being reminded of Christian or Traditional belief depended on (was moderated by) how worried participants were about resource availability and beliefs about the Christian God’s tendency toward punishment or forgiveness. Analyses of interview data suggest Christian and Traditional imagery may evoke different conceptions of gods as either supportive (Christian) or authoritarian (Traditional). Results highlight belief content as key for sustaining different social support networks and traditional belief/ knowledge systems as a source of community resilience against threats like natural disasters.  

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DOI: 10.1558/jsrnc.38538


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