I think they tend to agree more than others because they begin with strong agreement on very precise fundamental definitions and most of the rest follows logically and almost mechanically; which is not to say that there are not leaps of genius and intuition but that even the most once such a leap occurs those who follow can easily bridge the chasm using well defined steps. The less consensus there is on fundamental definitions the less consensus there will be in any discipline. Thus we find mathematics (where consensus on fundamental definitions is strong) exhibiting strong agreement elsewhere, less so with physics, less with biology, less with history, less still with sociology, psychology, philosophy and so it goes. In a field like mathematics there the fundamental constructs are very simple and well defined (e.g. integers, vectors, operations, etc), but on the other end of the spectrum in a field like philosophy, the most fundamental constructs are perhaps the least well defined and agreed upon (e.g. reality, knowledge, truth, etc.) The level of consensus in each field is directly related to the precision of their fundamental definitions and their agreement with regards to them.
First of all, I apologize for my terribly late answer and really want to thank for your comment, and this overall exciting discussion.
For the first point, the fact that believers trust more believers of other religions than atheists of their own ingroup is not a definitive point against the "ideological distance" idea, as belief in a Big God may be felt as central enough in how someone considers his or her own behavior and life to make a believer feeling closer to a believer of another religion than to an atheist.
My point was mainly to ask what more detailed mechanism or reasoning ends in distrusting atheists, on the basis of supernatural policing's consequences, and the references you gave me addressed my concerns quite well. Nevertheless, testing if unpredictability of behavior or uncertainty about a predicted behavior can occur independently or not, and if these mechanisms may be at play in other judgments of trust (not only based on expectations from belonging to a certain group), seem an exciting issue to me.
For my second point, I felt that in your book, the exclusive existence of Big Gods in Big Groups settings was an argument for your point, whereas neither you needed it to make it, nor it seemed convincing, for the reasons you developed in your comment, and what bothered me was only the use of it in your argumentation.
I was not considering the "Big Gods for Big Groups" argument as Big Gods being a byproduct of social complexity, but more that Big Groups would be a necessary condition of the existence of Big Gods, for kind of "technical" reasons like the number of transmissions the concept of a High God would need to be maintained, or even kind of "crafted" by successive additions of properties, which would imply a critical size of people talking about that god, quite independently from the complexity of the group. This hypothesis does not imply that Big Groups wouldn't benefit from Big Gods, and would explain only why Big Gods are not found in small groups, not why they are more frequent under certain environmental conditions.
Out of curiosity, do cross-cultural or historical researches show (so far) signs of Big Gods that would have disappeared (without being replaced by another form of social monitoring)?
Ara, I share your sentiments about the need for research on the psychological mechanisms and socio cultural processes underpinning karmic traditions. Identifying how, precisely, they work and how these processes interact with cultural contexts/doctrine will ultimately lead us closer to the task of explaining the shared, and unique, features of religion. I note that the Science of Immortality Project at UC Riverside explicitly called for this type of research (on karmic notions of rebirth), so I am guessing that there is none.Even though the focus is on folk concepts, I think that, as you suggest, the academic study of theological doctrine is crucial to understand. Equally important is the fact that there are hypotheses about the transformation of amoral rebirth eschatologies to moral ones that are largely "untested". For example, Obeyesekere's (2002) classic text "Imagining Karma" proposes an explanation of how and why rebirth systems changed but we are lacking a systematic analyses of the historical record. One of my projects (in progress) is to map the cross-cultural record to better understand in which types of societies these karmic notions exist, and how they relate to the broader socio-cultural context, and whether those relationships are "meaningful".What is also notably lacking is culturally sensitive research on how people respond to such concepts on the ground, as it were. While there is experimental research (albeit WEIRD) on the processes that underpin moral judgments/cooperation (I note with interest esp. the Baumard and Boyer 'Explaining Moral Religions' based on notions of proprotionality), we don't necessarily know that these processes govern "folk-karma" (in the proportionality with karma, I think they do). Thus, the need to understand the intuitive psychological biases that enable these systems to work should be based first and foremost on the cultural research.I conducted some ethnographic research with the Jains in India in an attempt to understand more about how they viewed karmic reward/punishment, but specifically in relation to the quality (i.e., good or bad life) or ontology (i.e., human, animal, plant) into which they were reborn based on their moral actions in this life. I share your theory about the importance of ritual actions, and especially the cues of supernatural agency which were everywhere (i.e., mahavira). I also agree that the idea of an impersonal system without supernatural cues, at the least, is not reflective of such religious systems in practice. Though we need to know the extent of the reliance and nature of these supernatural cues. Though there are similarities, it seems that pinpointing the differences in the systems - in ways that go beyond the supernatural agent theory, would be equally beneficial. For example, the details of the 'punishment' differ in Big Gods and karmic systems, it seems. For example, (thinking off-the-cuff here), one intriguing difference is that karmic punishment does not have (is not perceived to have) intermittent reinforcement. The final curtain call comes at the end of your life, not throughout, though it effects the quality of your next life. Whereas, at least the tentative research i've conducted on supernatural agents suggests that people perceive them as effecting one's current life - they can and do (relatively predictably) punish in multiple domains (e.g., biology - illness, psychology - mental torment) etc. as well as having ramification for the quality of one's life after death (I am assuming this also applies to high Gods). Thus, based on underlying schedules of "reinforcement", karma should (throwing out a suggestion here) rely more on support at the cultural level to maintain/spread the belief and thus, to induce behavioral modification (this could be in the form of CREDs/costly signalling etc via more rituals). I am also conducting research with past life groups in California (with Shaun Nichols) to understand more about the intuitive biases underpinning people's notions of past lives, including ideas about the moral consequences of actions in one life. These New Religious Movements may provide some insight to understand the dynamics of non-ethical ideas about rebirth, since they have no explicit moral system, and nor do they (on face value at least) rely upon a supernatural agent. But ultimately I think a culturally sensitive study of such processes is needed.
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