Modern-day differences between cultures – from donating blood to strangers to paying your parking tickets – come back to medieval Catholicism, researchers say. Source: The Age.
A sweeping theory published last week in the journal Science posits a new explanation for the divergent course of Western civilisation from the rest of the world: The early Catholic Church reshaped family structures, and by doing so, changed human psychology forever after.
The researchers claim that they can trace all sorts of modern-day differences between cultures to the influence of medieval Catholicism.
“The longer the duration under the Church will predict greater individualism, less conformity and obedience, and more cooperation and trust with strangers. Our findings have big implications,” said Joseph Henrich, one of the researchers.
The research, conducted by George Mason University economists Jonathan Schulz and Jonathan Beauchamp and Harvard University evolutionary biologists Henrich and Duman Bahrami-Rad, tells a new story about how human cultures turned out so differently from one another.
That story begins with kinship networks – the tribes and clans of densely connected, insular groups of relatives who formed most human societies before medieval times. Catholic Church teachings disrupted those networks, in large part by vehemently prohibiting marriage between relatives, and eventually provoked a wholesale transformation of communities, changing the norm from large clans into small, monogamous nuclear families.
That cultural overhaul, the researchers argue, prompted tremendous changes to human psychology.
The team analysed Vatican records to document the extent of a country or region's exposure to Catholicism before the year 1500 and found that longer exposure to Catholicism correlated with low measures of kinship intensity in the modern era, including low rates of cousins marrying each other.
Both measures correlated with psychology, the researchers found by looking at 24 different psychological traits of people in different cultures: Countries exposed to Catholicism early have citizens today who exhibit qualities such as being more individualistic and independent, and being more trusting of strangers.