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Divine Placebo: Health and the Evolution of Religion
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies, Centre for Cultural Evolution. Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Zoology. Institute for Future Studies, Sweden.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-3245-0850
Number of Authors: 12019 (English)In: Human Ecology, ISSN 0300-7839, E-ISSN 1572-9915, Vol. 47, no 2, p. 157-163Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

In this paper, I draw on knowledge from several disciplines to explicate the potential evolutionary significance of health effects of religiosity. I present three main observations. First, traditional methods of religious healers seldom rely on active remedies, but instead focus on lifestyle changes or spiritual healing practices that best can be described as placebo methods. Second, actual health effects of religiosity are thus mainly traceable to effects from a regulated lifestyle, social support networks, or placebo effects. Third, there are clear parallels between religious healing practices and currently identified methods that induce placebo effects. Physiological mechanisms identified to lie behind placebo effects activate the body's own coping strategies and healing responses. In combination, lifestyle, social support networks, and placebo effects thus produce both actual and perceived health effects of religiosity. This may have played an important role in the evolution and diffusion of religion through two main pathways. First, any real positive health effects of religiosity would have provided a direct biological advantage. Second, any perceived health effects, both positive and negative, would further have provided a unique selling point for religiosity' per se. Actual and perceived health effects of religiosity may therefore have played an underestimated role during the evolution of religiosity through both biological and cultural pathways.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2019. Vol. 47, no 2, p. 157-163
Keywords [en]
Evolution, Cultural evolution, Health, Placebo, Religiosity, Social support networks, Lifestyle
National Category
Cultural Studies Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-170222DOI: 10.1007/s10745-019-0066-7ISI: 000468110800001OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-170222DiVA, id: diva2:1332729
Available from: 2019-06-28 Created: 2019-06-28 Last updated: 2019-06-28Bibliographically approved

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