From the Washington Post:
Medieval Catholicism explains the differences between cultures to this day, researchers say
A sweeping theory published Thursday in the journal “Science” posits a new explanation for the divergent course of Western civilization 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 – from donating blood to strangers to paying your parking tickets – 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 (which had been de rigeur), 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.
Read the whole thing. I had heard that the Catholic prohibition on marriages under the fifth degree of consanguinity was at least partly responsible for the transformation of European tribalism into nationalism; it makes intuitive sense, and it’s good to see that the theory is getting some serious attention, although I’m sure that more research is needed.