Religion evolved to recycle wasted efforts

Activity: Talk or presentationLecture and oral contribution

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Uffe Schjødt - Lecturer

Uffe Schjoedt, RCC, Aarhus University, Denmark (
“Religion evolved to recycle wasted efforts”

Humans and other animals are obsessed with the conservation of effort. This basic evolutionary drive for conservation counts among the strongest influences on human behaviour. I suggest that it also plays a critical role in the development of religious practices and that the effects of this drive should be central to the evolutionary study of religion.
The drive for conservation has consequences for the way humans react to effort investments. Invested effort increases the value of any object or event regardless of their function and intrinsic value. Invested efforts also increase motivations to identify alternative rewards if expected rewards fail to materialize. These effects can be explained by a strong aversion towards wasted effort which exists in all domains of human behaviour. It seems, however, especially important for the religious domain because religious practices are characterised by excessive investments in behaviours that do not directly link to material goals. The more time and energy people invest in a ritual, the more value and significance they attribute to that ritual to avoid unpleasant feelings of wasted effort. This basic mechanism enables religious systems to align subjects’ value systems simply by making participants invest efforts in a specific set of shared practices. The effect, however, is most powerful in situations where invested time and energy is truly disconnected from concrete meanings and goals. Rituals seem to produce such optimal situations by a host of tools that produce pure waste investments. This paper presents a theory of religion as a recycling technology for wasted efforts and it introduces a Pure Waste Hypothesis of ritual.
25 Jun 2012


Date25/06/2012 → …

ID: 45498172