An exploration of the functions of religious monumental architecture from a Darwinian perspective

Y. Joye, J. Verpooten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)
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In recent years, the cognitive science of religion has displayed a keen interest in religions’ social function, bolstering research on religious prosociality and cooperativeness. The main objective of this article is to explore, from a arwinian perspective, the biological and psychological mechanisms through which religious monumental architecture (RMA) might support that specific function. A frequently held view is that monumental architecture is a costly signal that served vertical social stratification in complex large-scale societies. In this paper we extend that view. We hypothesize that the function(s) of RMA
cannot be fully appreciated from a costly signaling perspective alone, and invoke a complementary mechanism, namely sensory exploitation. We propose that, in addition to being a costly signal, RMA also often taps into an daptive “sensitivity for bigness.” The central hypothesis of this paper is that when cases of RMA strongly stimulate that sensitivity, and when commoners become aware of the costly investments that are necessary to build RMA, then this may give rise to a particular emotional response, namely awe. We will try to demonstrate that, by exploiting awe, RMA promotes and regulates prosocial
behavior among religious followers and creates in them an openness to adopt supernatural beliefs.
Keywords: religious monumental architecture, sensory exploitation, costly signaling, awe, supernatural beliefs
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-68
JournalReview of General Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


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