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date: 19 November 2018

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter argues that religion is, in part, an evolved disease-avoidance strategy. That is, many of the major world religions are a consequence of a system of psychological mechanisms that has evolved to promote disease avoidance. As person-to-person contact is a significant route of contamination, the behavioral immune system encourages avoidance of other people, especially individuals who may be sick or harboring pathogens. Consequently, the behavioral immune system promotes the adoption of socially conservative cultural value systems, which support avoidance of and prejudice toward out-group members. Indeed, the evidence indicates that religiosity is stronger in areas of the world that have a higher pathogen load. Additionally, individuals who are more sensitive to disgust and are more concerned with contamination exhibit more religious conservatism. Viewing religion from a disease-avoidance perspective helps explain why many religions are rife with purity rituals and often promote out-group avoidance.

Keywords: religion, behavioral immune system, disgust, prejudice, contamination, conservative

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