Research press release


Nature Human Behaviour

Powerful leaders, not people power, caused Christianity to spread fastest



Joseph Wattsたちは今回、キリスト教が受容される速さと最も強く関連する因子を見極めるために、16~19世紀における太平洋の70の島々の文化の転換に関する記録を分析した。豊富なデータセットと独自の方法によって、島々間の移動時間や島民間の歴史的な結び付き(文化的起源の共通性など)といった交絡し得る諸因子を考慮しながら、さまざまな島における人々の改宗の速さの比較が可能となった。


関連するNews & ViewsではNicole Creanzaが、今回得られた知見は、文化がどのようにより広く発展していくのかを理解する上で役立つものであり、「集団サイズや政治的組織といった、集団レベルの特性の一端を知るだけで、ある観念が集団内に広まるかどうかを適切に予測できる確率が大きく高まる」ことを示していると指摘している。

Christianity spreads fastest in smaller societies with political hierarchies, reports paper published online this week in Nature Human Behaviour.

Today, Christianity is the world’s largest religious family. However, it is unknown if its success is best explained by it being a grassroots movement with an empowering message for the downtrodden, or if missionary efforts to convert influential leaders - such as the famous conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine - had a greater role.

Joseph Watts and colleagues analyse records on the conversion of 70 Austronesian island cultures between the 16th and 19th centuries to determine which factors are most strongly associated with the speed of adopting Christianity. The rich dataset and their methodology allowed them to compare conversion speeds between different island populations while controlling for potentially confounding factors like the travel time between islands and historical ties between island populations, such as a common cultural ancestry.

The authors find that stronger political leadership and smaller population size most strongly predicted rapid conversion times, whereas social inequality levels are not significantly associated with conversion speed. This suggests that Christianity did not spread in these populations because of its socially empowering doctrine, but because of the influence of leaders and how ideas spread faster in smaller populations.

In an accompanying News & Views article, Nicole Creanza notes that these findings have implications for understanding how culture evolves more generally, demonstrating how “knowing just a few population-level features, such as population size and political organization, substantially improves our chances of successfully predicting whether an idea will spread in a population”.

doi: 10.1038/s41562-018-0379-3

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