How geography shapes religion

The short book Why we Believe in God(s) by J. Anderson Thomson with Clare Aukofer (2011) marshals the evidence that god is a creation of human beings.

In the book, the authors discuss the work of Robert Sapolsky, a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, who has “extracted information showing that religious ideas actually can be shaped by geography and ecology. Historically, rain forest dwellers, with nature’s abundance all around, tended to be polytheists, believing in spirits based on nature and less likely to assume that gods intervene in their lives. Desert dwellers, living in a monotonous, harsh, and unforgiving environment, were more likely to believe in a single, sometimes harsh, misogynistic, interventionist god.” (p. 137)

Just our luck that the unpleasant desert version of god has become dominant.

This work supports the ideas of primatologist Frans de Waal that I discussed earlier.


  1. P Smith says

    “Just our luck that the unpleasant desert version of god has become dominant.”

    That’s an erroneous statement. The “abrahamic god” is an agglomeration of various mythologies from around the Mediterranean Sea and from along the Silk Road, and even within ancient Palestine. Various bits and pieces of christian, jewish and muslim mythologies can be traced to places as far away as China or England but mostly to Egypt, Greece, Sumeria and Iran.

    It was Akhenaten who first tried turning Egypt into a monotheistic state in the 14th century BCE, which predates the cobbling of various jewish myths into the “abrahamic god” by only a few years. Those two countries are contiguous, not just found along the trading routes.


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