Supernatural beliefs have appeared in every society throughout history. Recent research helps explain why

Supernatural beliefs have appeared in every society throughout history. Recent research helps explain why
25 March 2024 J.W.H

Religion is the universality of man. For 1000’s of years, people have held religious beliefs and took part in religious rituals. Every human society throughout history has been highlighted some form of supernatural or religious belief.

Why is religion so common? One reason is that it’s a strong tool for clarification.

The world is a mysterious place, and before the rise of recent science it was much more mysterious. Religion is usually a strategy to understand this mystery. This idea dates back to the times of theologians and philosophers, including: Henry Drummond AND Friedrich Nietzschewho each supported the “God of the Gaps” hypothesis, by which God's divine intervention is used to clarify gaps in scientific knowledge.

For example, ancient Chinese and Korean societies sought divine intervention to justify changing their rulers, while the Egyptians, Aztecs, Celts, and Tiv people used the need of the gods to explain celestial cycles.

There are many American Christians in today's world watched the Covid-19 pandemic as a type of divine punishment.

Yet despite these specific examples, we all know little in regards to the sorts of phenomena people try to clarify using religion. If religion helps us fill knowledge gaps, what sorts of gaps is it almost definitely to fill?

Our international research team has been exploring this query for the past five years, reviewing ethnographies of societies all over the world and throughout history.

We found societies are rather more more likely to have supernatural beliefs that concern “natural” somewhat than “social” phenomena.

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Supernatural explanations of natural phenomena

In total, our study sample included historical records from 114 different societies.

These included nomadic hunter-gatherer groups in Africa (reminiscent of ǃKung people), to Pacific Island fishing and horticultural societies (reminiscent of the people of Trobriand Islands), to large “complex” societies with modern technology and written records (reminiscent of the Javanese, Malay, and Turkish societies).

For each society, we read ethnographic texts and identified supernatural explanations that were commonly held by its inhabitants. We then identified the source of the reason.

We were particularly taken with whether supernatural explanations focused on “natural” phenomena – events that had no apparent human cause, reminiscent of disease, natural disasters, and drought – or whether or not they focused on human-caused “social” phenomena, reminiscent of wars, murders and thefts.

We found explanations for all these different phenomena in our survey. For example, the Cayapa people of the Ecuadorian rainforest attributed lightning, a natural phenomenon, to the spirit of Thunder, who carried a big sword that gleamed when he used it in battle.

And the Comanches of the American great plains explained the moment of war, a social phenomenon, through the dreams of shamans.

However, our results also revealed a striking gap: supernatural explanations for natural phenomena were rather more common than for social phenomena.

In fact, almost the entire societies we studied had supernatural explanations for natural phenomena reminiscent of disease (96%), natural disasters (92%), and drought (90%). Fewer had supernatural explanations for warfare (67%), murder (82%) and theft (26%).

Beliefs within the supernatural evolve as societies develop

The global spread of naturally clustered supernatural explanations is probably the most striking findings of our research. This is partly surprising because today's major religions, reminiscent of Christianity and Islam, are very social institutions.

Modern Christians treat their religious beliefs more as a social and moral compass than as a strategy to understand the weather. Similarly, the Bible seeks to clarify a wide range of social phenomena. The the story of Cain and Abel explains the origins of the murder, while the Book of Joshua explains the supernatural causes of the war that destroyed Jericho.

The story of Cain killing Abel is meant to clarify the origins of the murder.
Wikimedia Commons

How then could we explain the contrast between supernatural explanations in modern Christianity and the supernatural explanations utilized in traditional societies as recorded within the historical record? One of our discoveries may provide a clue.

We have found that societies develop increasingly supernatural explanations for social phenomena as they turn into larger and more complex. More populous societies with currency and land transportation were more likely to clarify events reminiscent of theft and warfare when it comes to supernatural principles somewhat than small groups of hunter-gatherers and gardeners.

We can't say obviously why this happens. This could also be because in larger societies, people know and trust one another less, and this translates into belief in witchcraft and witchcraft. Or possibly people in larger, complex societies are more concerned about issues like war and theft, and are due to this fact more more likely to develop supernatural explanations for them.

Intellectuals, e.g Edward Tylor AND David Hume it was thought that religious beliefs could have originated as a way of explaining natural phenomena.

Although our study cannot make clear the origins of faith, it does support this thesis. But beyond that, it also shows that societies usually tend to turn to religion to make sense of the social world because it becomes larger and more complex.

À lire aussi: In Japan, supernatural beliefs connect the spiritual realm with the earthly objects around us

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  • J.W.H

    About John:

    John Williams is a Reincarnationist paranormal Intuitive freelance writer...he is living proof of reincarnation existence, through his personal exploration, he has confirmed its authenticity through visits to the very lands where these events transpired.

    Through guided meditation/s using hemi-sync technology he has managed to recollect 3 previous lives to his own, that go back to the Mid to Late 19th century.

    JWH - "You are the GODS! - Inclusion of the Eternal Light of Love and you shall never die”.

    “Death is Just the Beginning of Life”