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The faith of sacrifice: Commitment and cooperation in Candomble, an Afro-Brazilian religion

Dissertation
Author: Carmin Montserrat Soler Cruz
Abstract:
Religion has long been assumed to promote group cohesion and solidarity. Recent developments in evolutionary anthropology and cognitive science have begun to provide clues to the mechanisms by which this may occur. A central idea that has emerged from this literature is that costly expressions of religious commitment may serve as honest signals of cooperation toward other group members. This dissertation explores this hypothesis in the context of Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian religion centered in Northeastern Brazil. Candomblé is organized around independent communities called terreiros , which depend on the collective efforts of their members to succeed. Belonging to Candomblé demands constant investments of time and effort from its members in terms of ritual participation. Thus, the religion presents an ideal setting to explore the relationship between religious commitment and intra-group cooperation. Quantitative and qualitative research was carried out over a period of fourteen in the city of Salvador da Bahia. Initially, a survey was conducted to understand the variability present in the population of terreiros. Although Candomblé has long been the subject of ethnographic inquiry, there is a dearth of material on the internal sociology of terreiros and the composition of their membership. The information collected during this time was essential to understand the dynamics that operate within these religious communities. In subsequent months, systematic data were collected from a sub-sample of thirteen terreiros. Instruments included a religious commitment scale designed specifically for Candomblé devotees, an individual questionnaire, and an experimental economic game. Results show that individuals who demonstrate higher levels of religious commitment cooperate more in the game and report more instances of past cooperation toward other group members. Those who provide more cooperation to others also report receiving more cooperative acts in return. In addition, those individuals who may have more to gain from group-belonging also display higher religiosity. Apart from income, other demographic variables had little effect on various measures of both religious commitment and cooperation. Results from these analyses are discussed within the framework of signaling theory and taking into account the historical, economic and social context of Candomblé.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Title Page…………………………………………………………………………………..i

Abstract……………………………………………………………………………………ii

Acknowledgements……………………………………………………………………….iv

Dedication………………………………………………………………………………...vi

Table of Contents………………………………………………………………………...vii

List of Tables and Figures………………………………………………………………..xi

CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION

1. Anthropology and Religion…………………………………………..…………1

2. Research Setting………………………………………………………………...4

3. Aims and Significance…………………………………………………….........5

4. Dissertation Overview……….…………………………………………………7

5. Notes…………………………………………………………………………....8

CHAPTER TWO: THEORETICAL BACKGROUND

1. Introduction………………………………………………………………........10

2. Evolutionary Approaches to Religion…………………………………………11

2.1 Costly Signaling Theory……………………………………………..15

2.2 Costly Signaling and Religion……………………………….........…17

2.3 Religious Beliefs and Morality………………………………..…..…24

3. Cognitive Science of Religion…………………………………………….…..27

3.1 Acquisition and Transmission of Religious Concepts………….........30

3.2 Cognitive Accounts of Ritual………………………………………...39

vii

CHAPTER THREE: AN INTRODUCTION TO CANDOMBLÉ

1. Introduction……………………………………………………………...…….45

2. Colonial Bahia and the Development of Candomblé…………………………46

3. Beliefs, Ritual and Doctrine……………………………………………….......54

3.1 Pragmatism and Amorality…………………………………………..54

3.2 Axé, Orixás, and Entidades………………………………..................58

4. Social Organization……………………………………………………………63

4.1 Terreiro Hierarchy…………………………………………………...65

4.2 Clients and External Followers………………………………………72

5. Commitment Costs……………………………………………..…………......76

6. Cooperation in Candomblé……………………………………………………81

CHAPTER FOUR: THE CANDOMBLÉ TERREIRO

1. Introduction……………………………………………………………..……..85

2. Methodology……………………………………………………………….….87

2.1 Research Design……………………………………………….……..87

2.2 Research Setting……………………………………………………...90

2.3 Preliminary Research and Composition of Survey Questionnaire…..93

2.4 Data Collection………………………………………………………95

2.5 Descriptive Results…………………………………………………..96

2.6 Exploratory Analyses………………………………………………..99

2.7 Discussion…………………………………………………………..101

3. Four Candomblé Terreiros…………………………………………...………110

3.1 The Conflicts of Tradition……………………………….…………110

viii

3.2 A Growing Terreiro………………………………………………...115

3.3 A Successful Family Terreiro………………………………………119

3.4 A Terreiro in Transition…………………………………………….121

CHAPTER FIVE: RELIGIOUS COMMITMENT AND COOPERATION IN CANDOMBLÉ

1. Introduction………………………………………………………………..…125

2. Methodology………………………………………………………..………..130

2.1 Purposive Sample of Terreiros……………………………….……..130

2.2 Data Collection Instruments…………………………..……………131

2.2.1 Individual Questionnaire………………………………….131

2.2.2 Religious Commitment Scale…………………………….132

2.2.3 Economic Game…………………………………………..135

2.2.4 Administration of Instruments…………..………………..136

3. Results………………………………………………………..………………139

3.1 Demographic and Descriptive Variables…………….……………..139

3.2 Religious Commitment Measures…………………………………..142

3.2.1 Discussion of Religious Commitment Measures…………144

3.3. Cooperation Measures……………………………………………..149

3.3.1 Discussion of Cooperation Measures……………………..151

4. Hypotheses Testing…………………………………………………………..156

4.1 Hypothesis One……………………………………………………..156

4.1.1 Results…………………………………………………….156

4.1.2 Discussion………………………………………………...160

ix

4.2 Hypothesis Two…………………………………………………….171

4.2.1 Results…………………………………………………….171

4.2.2 Discussion………………………………………………...172

4.3 Hypothesis Three……………………………………………….......178

4.3.1 Results…………………………………………………….178

4.3.2 Discussion………………………………………………...179

4.4 Hypothesis Four…………………………………………………….182

4.4.1 Results…………………………………………………….182

4.4.2 Discussion………………………………………………...184

CONCLUSION…………………………………………………………………………189

APPENDIX 1…………………………………………………..……………………….195

APPENDIX 2……………………………………………………………………….…..204

APPENDIX 3…………………………………………………………………………...210

REFERENCES CITED…………………………………………………………………214

CURRICULUM VITAE………………………………………………………………..229

x

xi

LIST OF TABLES AND FIGURES

TABLES

1. Correlations between Religious Commitment Variables……………………….……145

2. Correlations between Cooperation Measures………………………………………..152

3. OLS Regression of Game Offer on RCS and Other Variables………………………157

4. OLS Regression of Game Offer as a Proportion of Income on RCS and Other Variables……………………………………………………………………... 158

5. OLS Regression of “Given Cooperation” variable on RCS....………………………160

6. OLS Regression of Religious Commitment Scale Score on Items Reflecting Need for Cooperation and Other Variables…..………………………….172

FIGURES

1. Frequency Distribution of Game Offer…………………………………………...….151

2. Frequency Distribution of Game Offer as a Proportion of…………………….…….151

3. Partial Regression Plot of Game Offer as a Proportion of Income on RCS...……….159

4. Partial Regression Plot of “Given Cooperation” Variable on RCS……………….…161

1 CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION 1. Anthropology and Religion The study of religion is intimately linked to the development of anthropology. The subject constituted the theme of the earliest works of anthropology as a distinct field and the subsequent works of major theorists have been variously concerned with defining, understanding, deconstructing or interpreting ritual and belief. In the last thirty years, however, as has happened with other concepts that originally were central to anthropology, religion has been questioned by scholars as a legitimate category of study. The post-colonial critiques of theorists such as Said (1979) and Asad (1982) that questioned the validity of a construct rooted and defined by Western standards have found a large audience in the field. This view can be summed up in Asad’s principal point that “there cannot be a universal definition of religion, not only because its constituent elements and relationships are historically specific, but because that definition in itself is the historical product of discursive processes” (1982/1993: 29). These evaluations have been an important antidote to simplistic conceptions of religion and highlighted the delicate role of the ethnographer as interpreter of a different reality. They have brought to the forefront of the field the need for constant awareness of the specificity of religious practices and beliefs (as of other cultural expressions) and emphasized the necessity of careful self-reflection on the part of the investigator. On the other hand, the refutation of universalistic definitions or explanations has excised discussions of the origin of religion from anthropological scholarship. The evolutionary frameworks of the turn of the 19 th century are usually the cited representatives of such attempts and rightly described as ethnocentric and naïve. Indeed, the works of early scholars of the anthropology of religion did suffer from

2 these shortcomings. They can provide little help in attempting to understand the why or how of ritual and belief. But these theories have long ceased to have an impact. Instead, emerging work from completely different perspectives has begun to provide a fresh and novel perspective on classic questions. This work represents independent strands of theory and research that have begun to coalesce as a distinct field (see Barrett, 2000; Bulbulia, 2004a; Bulbulia et al 2008). Broadly, these can be characterized as evolutionary and cognitive studies of religion. As their names indicate, these bodies of work differ in theoretical orientations, methodologies, and research aims. Theories of the evolution of religion have centered on understanding ultimate causes of religious behavior and its possibly adaptive characteristics. The cognitive science of religion, on the other hand, has been more concerned with proximal mechanisms that govern the acquisition and transmission of religious beliefs and tends to view these as by-products of other psychological processes. Both areas are also multidisciplinary, so that psychologists, cognitive scientists, evolutionary biologists, neurobiologists, religion scholars and of course, anthropologists, have contributed to the discussion. Where these literatures converge is on the common interest of understanding religion as a natural process and in a manner that is consistent with evolutionary theory. In order to attain a coherent dialogue on these issues, it is of course crucial to agree on the topic of study. But as the post-modern critiques point out, this may be more complicated than it appears at first glance. Any definition of religion will immediately encounter exceptions and variations. However, because religion is not defined by unambiguous boundaries does not mean it cannot be described and studied in meaningful ways. Gender, ethnicity, and art are similar constructs in that they are highly variable across cultures and do not fit neatly into a bounded category. Still,

3 there are entire fields dedicated to the study of each of these concepts. A clear-cut definition of religion, then, is not only impossible but also unnecessary. A more fruitful approach is to identify the elements that constitute the subject of study. Thus, religion can be understood as a system that encompasses five distinct elements: 1.) Belief in a supernatural reality 2.) Communal rituals 3.) Strong ties to the moral order 4.) Evocation of profound emotions 5.) Presence of specialists Religion is unique and identifiable because all these elements are present. In this light, religion can indeed be described as a universal of human society (Brown, 1991). Other concepts in what might be termed the religious continuum may possess some, but not all these characteristics. In the West, for example, superstitions, magic, and divination all share something of a faith-based belief but do not constitute religion because they do not involve a community of individuals that perform emotionally meaningful rituals together. Indeed, the question of why some beliefs become religious and others do not is in itself an interesting question. While religion as identified above is the broad theme of this dissertation, the main focus is on only one element. I am primarily concerned with exploring the evolutionary processes that govern religious ritual. More specifically, this dissertation explores the intersection of ritual, religious commitment (which can be understood as one of the deep emotions that religion excites) and intra-group dynamics. To explore these issues, I rely on what I will term the signaling theory of religion based primarily on the work of Irons (e.g. 2001) and Sosis (e.g. 2003, Sosis and Bressler, 2003; Sosis and Ruffle, 2003). In this framework, costly or hard-to-fake displays of religiosity are

4 viewed as expressions of commitment to the group that translates into cooperativeness. The broad aim is to understand how religion can have evolved to foster intra-group cooperation and solidarity. In the next section, I provide a very brief summary of the research setting where the project was carried out. 2. Research Setting The research was conducted in the city of Salvador da Bahia in Northeastern Brazil 1 . Salvador is the fourth largest urban metropolis of the country and widely considered the center of Afro-Brazilian culture. I focused on communities of Candomblé, a religion that combines ancestral African elements and features of Catholicism. Candomblé developed around Salvador and other areas of that region, although it now has an important presence in the large cities of the South (Prandi, 1991). The religion acquired its current structure in the early to mid 19 th century (for historical accounts, see Butler, 1998; Harding, 2000), although the roots of Afro- Brazilian religion run much deeper (see Sweet, 2003). Candomblé is based on the cult of the orixás, spirits that represent natural forces and which can become manifested in followers through possession and trance. The religion is not organized under an over- reaching authority, but structured around independent temple communities or terreiros which possess a strict internal hierarchy (see Bastide, 1958/2001; Lima, 2003). Candomblé has long attracted the attention of Brazilian and foreign scholars (see Silva, 2000 for an analysis of the relationship between Candomblé and ethnography). There is a vast ethnographic literature that begins with the works of Nina Rodrigues and at the turn of the century and a paper presented by Manuel Querino in 1916. Interest waned for some years, only to reappear in full force in the

1 Bahia is the name of the state where Salvador is located, but is often used to refer to the city as well. To avoid confusion, throughout the dissertation I will use Salvador to refer to the city and Bahia to refer to the state.

5 1930 and 1940’s. Scholars from this period, such as Edson Carneiro, Melville Herskovitz, Ruth Landes, and Arthur Ramos, concentrated much of their efforts in describing, documenting and attempting to understand what amounted to a foreign religious universe in the midst of an increasingly Westernized country. In the 1960’s, Roger Bastide and Pierre Verger focused on tracing the connections between Candomblé and its African predecessors. These classic works set the themes that were to dominate much of the subsequent scholarship on Candomblé in later years, and in many cases still do. Current authors have produced increasingly detailed accounts of Candomblé ritual elements, such as the preparation and symbolism of food (e.g. Lody, 1998), ethnobotany (e.g. Voeks, 1997), and mediumship (e.g. Wafer, 1991), and continued to explore the relationship of Candomblé with its African roots and ensuing notions of authenticity and tradition (e.g. Capone, 2004). Much less attention has been paid to the sociology of the religion and the changes it is undergoing (but see Amaral, 2002; Pierucci and Prandi, 1996; Prandi, 1991, 1996, 2005). There is a dearth of information on the formation and disintegration processes of terreiros, the demographic composition of terreiro membership, or the internal mechanisms and conflicts of these religious communities. 3. Aims and Significance This dissertation combines theoretical and ethnographic interests with two objectives in mind. One, to present evidence that tests the signaling theory of religion and open new lines of inquiry in this direction. Second, to investigate aspects of the social organization of Candomblé and contribute to fill a gap in the ethnography of the religion. These two themes are intertwined throughout most of this dissertation, but there are sections that are of particular importance to each.

6 The more general theoretical orientation may appear incompatible with the specificities of ethnographic investigation. A useful way to conceptualize the dialogue between these two objectives is to keep in mind the differences and utilities of ultimate and proximate levels of explanation. Evolutionary theories, including signaling theories of religion, seek to provide an understanding of the distant causes of behavior. In this case, the aim is to understand the reasons why, in the evolution of our species, religion came to be and occupy a crucial place in every human society. From this perspective, parallels between situations that differ widely in times and space can be drawn and generalizations are necessarily made. Ethnography, on the other hand, is a proximal explanatory approach that focuses on the nuances and infinite variations of human interaction and experience. With this kind of specificity there are also limitations to the scope of questions that can be asked and answered, since they will only apply to a particular situation. Many other explanatory frameworks lie in-between. Cognitive studies of religion, for example, are situated more proximally to the phenomenon we are trying to explain than evolutionary explanations, just as a person-centered ethnography is much more proximal than a historico-comparative approach. What this dissertation attempts to accomplish is to interweave these two levels of explanation in order to obtain a more balanced and complete picture of the subject of study. The work is informed by a body of literature that seeks ultimate causes, but placing these finds in the context of ethnographic interpretation is necessary to ground the discussion on observed behavior and on subjects’ own experiences and interpretations. Religion is a powerful catalyst of human experience and meaning that cannot be only studied and analyzed through the abstractions of experimental work. Ethnographic fieldwork is essential to truly understanding the realities that lie behind

7 concepts and theories. This kind of work can give rise to new and often unexpected questions and avenues of research. The significance of this dissertation lies in several points. First, this work contributes to remedy the paucity of ethnographic research in the field of evolutionary and cognitive studies of religion. Second, the theoretical concerns of the project have been primarily discussed in the context of major world religions. In contrast, the focus here is on a local religion, adding to the cross-cultural body of evidence that is badly needed in the field. Finally, the work combines quantitative and qualitative methodologies to gain the advantages of systematic hypothesis-testing and detailed ethnographic description. 4. Dissertation Overview The dissertation is organized in four main chapters. The first chapter examines the literature on the evolutionary and cognitive science of religion. I provide brief summaries of major theories and empirical findings, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of each. I also indicate key issues and questions in the field and suggest avenues for future research. The second chapter describes the research setting and reviews the historic and ethnographic background of Candomblé. This section begins with a description of the city of Salvador da Bahia and the locations where most of the fieldwork was conducted. It sketches the ritual and social organization of Candomblé terreiros, emphasizing those elements that are particularly germane to the theme of the dissertation, such as the history of cooperation of the religion and the commitment costs that members undertake. Chapter three discusses data on a sample of approximately fifty Candomblé terreiros that were collected as the first stage of the research. The first half of the chapter is concerned with methodology and statistical analyses that begin to explore some of the general characteristics of these

8 communities. I also discuss factors that lead and motivate individuals to become part of the religion. In the second half, I present four vignette descriptions that illustrate the history and functioning of typical terreiros. This section provides a richer interpretation of the systematic data and highlights current issues that are important in the broader Candomblé community. The fourth chapter centers on hypotheses-testing. I first outline data-collection methods and provide extensive discussion of the measures used, as they reflect concepts that are essential to the study. I then describe the main individual hypotheses of the project that represent the main findings of the dissertation. This is followed by statistical analyses and discussion of results. I endeavor to complement systematic findings with ethnographic detail to provide examples of theoretical concepts. In the conclusion, I evaluate some of the major issues that emerge from the research and suggest directions for further theoretical and experimental work. 5. Notes The language of Candomblé is filled with words of Yoruban origin, but some of these terms also have widely-used equivalents in Portuguese. For example, the Yoruban yalorixá or ialorixá is used interchangeably with the Portuguese mãe-de- santo. Since I have no knowledge of Yoruban, throughout the text I rely on the orthography and terminology used by most researchers of Candomblé. It is important to note that these terms refer to Yoruban candomblés from the Ketu or Nagô tradition. Candomblés that affiliate with other traditions, such as Angolan, have their own ritual terminology, although for the most part the underlying concepts are the same. The names of all persons and identifying places have been changed to protect the privacy of informants. Some neighborhood names have been kept since these are

9 large areas where many terreiros are located and identification of individuals is highly unlikely. The most common name for a Candomblé temple is “terreiro”, but other terms include roça (farm), casa (house), axé, or simply the lower-case “candomblé”. Here, I generally use “terreiro” but sometimes “house” or “candomblé” to avoid excessive repetition. All translations in the following pages are mine unless otherwise noted.

10 CHAPTER TWO: THEORETICAL BACKGROUND 1. Introduction While the evolutionary study of social behavior has become a firmly established discipline in the last thirty years, it has only very recently concerned itself with religion. Nevertheless, there is now a growing literature that represents novel and interdisciplinary work from biologists, psychologists, cognitive scientists, and anthropologists who converge in a common interest: explaining religion in ways that are consistent with evolutionary theory and ordinary psychological capacities. While empirical substantiation is in its infancy, theoretical work has yielded much fruitful work. Two main approaches have emerged. One is concerned with the social aspects of religiosity, specifically with how religion may promote cooperation and influence the creation and maintenance of moral systems (e.g. Alcorta and Sosis, 2005; Bering and Johnson, 2005; Bulbulia, 2004; Cronk, 1994; Irons, 1996; 2001; Johnson and Bering, 2006; Sosis, 2003, Sosis and Bressler, 2003; Sosis and Ruffle, 2003, 2004; Wilson, 2002). The other is focused on the cognitive underpinnings of religion and on exploring how innate cognitive biases can account for the acquisition and transmission of religious concepts (e.g. Atran, 2002; Barrett, 2004; Bering, 2002; Bering and Bjorklund, 2004; Boyer, 2001, 2006; Guthrie, 1993; Dawkins, 2006; Dennett, 2007; Kirkpatrick, 2004; Lawson and McCauley, 1990, McCauley and Lawson, 2002; Tremlin, 2006; Whitehouse, 2004). These approaches are the result of work in complementary but distinct disciplines. They differ in theoretical assumptions and content focus. Social solidarity theories of religion tend to emphasize religious behavior and ritual rather than beliefs, have an explicit evolutionary orientation, and consider religion as adaptive or as having adaptive value. Cognitive theories, on the other hand, focus on religious beliefs and

11 proximate mechanistic processes rather than ultimate causes, and tend to view religion as a by-product of other psychological capacities. Although representing separate lines of inquiry, there is now sufficient dialogue between these two broad areas to consider them part of the same emerging discipline (see Bulbulia, 2004a, Bulbulia et al, 2008). This characterization does not exhaust the range of biological approaches to religion. In some intriguing experiments, areas of the brain have been associated with mystical states using neuroimaging technologies (Newberg et al, 2001; Persinger, 1987). Archaeologists have begun to explore cognitive explanations for the dramatic cultural changes found in the Upper Paleolithic that suggest the emergence of shamanistic religion (Lewis-Williams, 2002; Mithen, 1996). There has also been theoretical work that links charismatic religious leadership to sexual selection (e.g. Miller, 2000; Stevens and Price, 2001; Sapolsky, 1998). In this chapter, however, the discussion will be limited to evolutionary and cognitive approaches to religion. First, I will provide a brief overview of the evolution of cooperation and signaling theory, which are essential background for understanding the principal theory that informs this dissertation. Second, I will discuss evolutionary theories of religion that focus on social solidarity explanations. Third, I will review work on the cognitive science of religious belief and ritual. In the final section, I will point to important needs of the field and suggest directions for further study. 2. Evolutionary Approaches to Religion Adaptive reasoning is the main tool of evolutionary studies. Physical and behavioral traits are understood as designed by natural selection to increase fitness. In this view, the sacrifices that most religions demand are particularly puzzling. Religious traditions the world over require adherents to follow rules and codes of

12 conduct that seem absurd to outsiders and which can even be detrimental to physical well-being. Painful initiation rituals, food offerings and animal sacrifices in times of scarcity, or hours spent in meditation or prayer seem, at first glance, glaring departures from what constitutes adaptive behavior. Moreover, religious beliefs bear so little relation to the physical world that is it difficult to understand how such dissociation from reality could have been beneficial enough to become prevalent during human evolution. Praying to be saved from a flood rather than running for the nearest hill simply does not seem like a particularly effective strategy. Yet, not only are religious beliefs widespread, but the feelings and devotion that they inspire run so deep as to motivate the most heroic, and also most heinous, of actions. Evolutionary perspectives on religion have centered on trying to understand how beliefs and rituals may have been adaptive for our human ancestors. This has led to renewed interest in the idea that religion fosters intra-group cohesion and cooperation. This notion has, of course, been a long-standing assumption in anthropology (e.g. Durkheim, 1915/1965; Geertz, 1973; Rappaport, 1999; Turner, 1969). Evolutionary approaches provide novel ways of examining this idea and give rise to specific predictions of the kinds of behaviors that we should expect from believers. These theories are intimately linked to the study of cooperation and altruism, which is not limited to humans. Other organisms regularly act altruistically by helping others at the expense of individual welfare (e.g. ants at a colony, a bird alerting others to the presence of predators). In the specific case of our species, explaining prosociality is particularly important for scholars that understand human behavior as the maximization of individual benefits. Rational choice theorists, for example, have struggled to understand how collective action can arise and be maintained without external rewards or punishments (see Olson, 1971; Schelling,

13 1980). The difficulty was also recognized by Darwin who found it “scarcely possible…that the number of men gifted with such (moral) virtues, or that the standard of their excellence, could be increased through natural selection…” (1871/1998: 163). To understand how altruism in humans and other organisms can have evolved, theorists posit four mechanisms: kin selection or inclusive fitness, reciprocity, group selection, and costly signaling. Kin selection or inclusive fitness (Hamilton, 1964) establishes that, because related individuals share a portion of identical genetic material, helping kin is an evolutionarily beneficial strategy under some circumstances. The second mechanism is reciprocity (Trivers, 1971), characterized by a “you scratch my back, I scratch yours” scenario in which an altruistic act is later repaid by the original receiver of the interaction. Indirect reciprocity (Alexander, 1987; Nowak and Sigmund, 1998) extends this original principle to suggest that altruism among members of a group may come back to the actor through the action of those other than the original beneficiary of the altruistic act. Indirect reciprocity may be particularly relevant in small groups where members can easily monitor the actions of cheaters and cooperators. Group selectionist accounts of altruism are controversial (see Williams, 1966), but remain important for some theorists and have recently enjoyed renewed interest (e.g. Boyd and Richerson, 1990; Gintis, 2000; Wilson and Sober, 1994; Sober and Wilson, 1998). In these models, altruistic tendencies can evolve because groups with altruistic members will outcompete those with more “selfish” members. Such scenarios focused on inter-group competition are particularly relevant in discussions of cultural evolution (e.g. Boyd and Richerson, 1982, 1985; Henrich, 2003; Soltis et al, 1995; Wilson, 2002).

14 Finally, costly signaling has been proposed as an additional mechanism by which altruism can evolve in organisms with higher cognitive abilities (Gintis et al, 2001; Smith and Bliege-Bird, 2000; Zahavi, 1977b, 1995). In this scenario, altruism can be understood as a purposefully expensive act that honestly reflects the individual’s willingness to help others. Altruistic individuals should benefit from their actions by attaining a favorable reputation and becoming a desirable mate or coalitional partner. In this brief overview, I have chosen to use “altruism” rather than “cooperation” because that it the specific term used in biology, where these theories have been developed. In the evolutionary literature, terms like altruism, cooperation, prosociality, and even collective action are often used interchangeably. This is not strictly accurate and may lead to confusion. The biological definition of altruism is specific and refers an act that is harmful to the individual but beneficial for other members of its species. Awareness on the part of the recipient that an altruistic act has been committed is not required. Cooperation, on the other hand, can be defined as “common effort” 2 . Thus, it implies an interaction where all individuals are aware of the goal and all are expected to act to achieve it. The goal may not be equally beneficial to all or it may change with each cooperative act, which opens the door to cheating or defection. While encouraging general altruism is an important axiom of some religious traditions (e.g. “love thy enemy”), the focus of this dissertation is on a more specific kind of prosocial behavior. The principal theme here is how ritual can foster cooperation, or more specifically, how religious signaling can promote and facilitate inter-personal relationships of mutual help.

Full document contains 242 pages
Abstract: Religion has long been assumed to promote group cohesion and solidarity. Recent developments in evolutionary anthropology and cognitive science have begun to provide clues to the mechanisms by which this may occur. A central idea that has emerged from this literature is that costly expressions of religious commitment may serve as honest signals of cooperation toward other group members. This dissertation explores this hypothesis in the context of Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian religion centered in Northeastern Brazil. Candomblé is organized around independent communities called terreiros , which depend on the collective efforts of their members to succeed. Belonging to Candomblé demands constant investments of time and effort from its members in terms of ritual participation. Thus, the religion presents an ideal setting to explore the relationship between religious commitment and intra-group cooperation. Quantitative and qualitative research was carried out over a period of fourteen in the city of Salvador da Bahia. Initially, a survey was conducted to understand the variability present in the population of terreiros. Although Candomblé has long been the subject of ethnographic inquiry, there is a dearth of material on the internal sociology of terreiros and the composition of their membership. The information collected during this time was essential to understand the dynamics that operate within these religious communities. In subsequent months, systematic data were collected from a sub-sample of thirteen terreiros. Instruments included a religious commitment scale designed specifically for Candomblé devotees, an individual questionnaire, and an experimental economic game. Results show that individuals who demonstrate higher levels of religious commitment cooperate more in the game and report more instances of past cooperation toward other group members. Those who provide more cooperation to others also report receiving more cooperative acts in return. In addition, those individuals who may have more to gain from group-belonging also display higher religiosity. Apart from income, other demographic variables had little effect on various measures of both religious commitment and cooperation. Results from these analyses are discussed within the framework of signaling theory and taking into account the historical, economic and social context of Candomblé.