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Gods, Rituals, and the Moral Order

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The functionalist “law” that religion sustains the moral order must be amended. As is demonstrated in this study, religion has this effect only as it is based on belief in powerful, active, conscious, morally-concerned gods. Contrary to Durkheim’s claims, participation in religious rituals per se has little independent impact on morality and none when done on behalf of gods conceived as unconscious essences, or as conscious gods of small scope and lacking moral concerns. Thus, the link between gods and morality is limited mainly to societies having more complex cultures, but even in some highly developed societies a religious basis for morality is missing. Quantitative results are based on 427 societies included in the Atlas of World Cultures, and on surveys of the United States and 33 other nations.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Washington, Seattle, WA.

Publication date: December 1, 2001

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