I have a paper that was just published in Mankind Quarterly:
Can Western Church Influence Explain Western Individualism? Comment on “The Church, Intensive Kinship, and Global Psychological Variation” by Jonathan F. Schulz et al., Mankind Quarterly 61, no. 2 (2020): 371-391.
This paper is a critique of a paper by Jonathan Schulz that appeared in 2019 in Science and got quite a bit of publicity. A co-author and likely inspiration for the project is Joseph Henrich, professor and chair of the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard and thus is well acquainted with evolutionary perspectives. However, while he acknowledges evolved, genetic influences on human behavior and that cultural changes may result in genetic changes (the classic example is the evolution of genes for lactose tolerance in some populations consequent to utilizing milk from domesticated cattle), he argues that the prime mover of human evolution is culture. In this scenario, there was nothing special or unique about Western populations prior to the Middle Ages, and that indeed, European populations in the year 1000 AD were markedly less advanced than Muslim societies and China. However, around this time the Catholic Church succeeded in imposing its marriage and family policy which essentially “demolished” intensive kinship relations (i.e., kinship deeply embedded within closely related groups, e.g., clans and kindreds with a distinct hierarchy and based on degree of genetic relatedness) commonly found in agricultural societies. Freed of the ties to intensive kinship groups, individuals gradually gravitated to voluntary associations based on common interests, ranging from merchant guilds to religious sects and scientific societies that ultimately gave birth to the modern world. In 2020 Henrich published The WEIRDest People in the World which is based fundamentally on the research presented in the 2019 Science article.
As I note in the abstract, this contrasts with my recently published book Individualism and the Western Liberal Tradition: Evolutionary Origins, History, and Prospects for the Future, which proposes that Western individualism, as expressed in the characteristic European marriage system and in a plethora of other cultural expressions, is ultimately the outcome of selection in the ancestral environments of northern Europe and northern Eurasia more widely. This commentary highlights the historical evidence bearing on these alternative explanations for European exceptionalism. The main conclusion is that European individualism, as expressed in kinship structure and social organization, was firmly established before the advent of Christianity. My paper has 4 sections:
1. Primordial Tendencies toward Western Individualism: the key issue is signs of individualism in the Indo-Europeans and Northern Hunter-Gatherers that make up the core populations of Western Europe.
2. Sources and Targets of Church Power, where the key issue is whether the Western European tradition of monogamy predated Church influence.
3. How Widespread Was Compliance with the Church’s Rules on Incestuous Marriage? A basic claim of Shulz et al. is that the Church eradicated widespread cousin marriage. I present the case that cousin marriage and clan-type social organization were never characteristic of the West.
4. The Geography of Church Influence. I show that Western individualism does not at all map onto the research on Western family history which shows that some areas of Western Europe long under Church influence (e.g., southern France) retained collectivist family patterns, while some areas of Western Europe that were Christianized late are the most individualistic (Scandinavia).