Joseph Henrich on Religion | Conversations with Tyler

Joseph Henrich on Religion | Conversations with Tyler


COWEN: If you’re thinking about a series
of connected problems — say the origins of the Industrial Revolution, how we should
spend foreign aid, how economic development can be encouraged — for this reason,
do you see the roles of ideas and religions as primary, as driving forces? Or not so much?
HENRICH: In my latest project I’m really looking at the kind of spread of the Western
church into Europe and how it transformed the social structure in ways that I think
led to individualism, it led to a different kind of cultural psychology that would eventually
pave the way for secular institutions and economic growth. The church is the first mover
in that account. COWEN: What did the British and Dutch arguably
have that, say, other parts of Europe or for that matter China might not have had as much
of? HENRICH: When the church first began to spread
its marriage-and-family program where it would dissolve all these complex kinship groups,
it altered marriage. So it ended polygyny, it ended cousin marriage, which stopped the
kind of . . . forced people to marry further away, which would build contacts between larger
groups. That actually starts in 600 in Kent, Anglo-Saxon Kent.
Missionaries then spread out into Holland and northern France and places like that.
At least in terms of timing, the marriage-and-family program gets its start in southern England.

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