Fundamental social motives and the varieties of religious experience

Kathryn Johnson, Yexin Jessica Li, Adam Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Evolutionary theorists have explained universals in religion, but no integrative theory exists to explain why multiple aspects of religion vary within and between individuals and groups. We propose how four dimensions of religions – beliefs about nonhuman agents, religious rituals, community structures, and moral concerns and values – may change in response to the fundamental social goals of self-protection, disease avoidance, coalition formation, status seeking, mating and mate retention, and kin care. We review empirical research and provide testable hypotheses, and finally discuss implications of this theoretical framework for the study of evolution and religion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)197-231
Number of pages35
JournalReligion, Brain and Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


  • Community
  • Evolution
  • Morality
  • Motivation
  • Nonhuman agents
  • Religion
  • Ritual

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Religious studies


Dive into the research topics of 'Fundamental social motives and the varieties of religious experience'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this