War, Peace, and the Evolution of Social Complexity
Some of the greatest atrocities have been caused by groups defending or advancing their political aspirations and sacred values. In order to comprehend and address the wanton violence of war, terrorism and genocide, it is necessary to understand the forces that bind and drive human groups. This five-year program of research investigates one of the most powerful mechanisms by which groups may be formed, inspired, and coordinated: ritual.
A principal aim of the project is to establish the effects of different ritual variables (such as the frequency and emotionality of performances) on patterns of group formation and interaction over time by drawing on recent theories and evidence from anthropology, evolutionary biology, and political science. We explore both archaeological as well as historical materials from the Neolithic and the earliest human civilizations, through the revolutionary Axial age, to the early modern period in order to investigate how changing patterns of ritual have contributed to inter-group competition and larger-scale systems of regulation throughout human history. This work will contribute to archaeological theories of the transition from foraging to farming and evolutionary theories of the origins and causes of state formation and warfare. The resulting models will also help us understand how rituals shape and constrain the formation and social morphology of rebel groups in modern civil wars.