That is the title of a new book by Ara Norenzayan. I have just started it. It appears to be an account of religion that is based on evolutionary psychology. He argues that the religions that thrived are those with (p. 6-7)
beliefs and practices that reflect credible displays of commitment to supernatural beings with policing powers.
This facilitates trust in strangers, which is otherwise difficult for humans (or any other species) to achieve.
I found the book very persuasive–perhaps too persuasive. I worry that so many of the psychology experiments that provide support for his propositions use “priming” techniques, and I wonder how well they replicate. I also worry that the idea that fasting and other painful rituals help to signal commitment makes for a “just-so” story.
Here is a question to think about. If religions help to create social capital by allowing people to signal conscientiousness, conformity, and trustworthiness, how does this relate to Bryan Caplan’s view that obtaining a college degree performs that function?