Religion is a ubiquitous aspect of human culture, yet until recently, relatively little was known about its natural origins and effects on human minds and societies. This is changing, as scientific interest in religion is on the rise. Debates about the evolutionary origins and functions of religion, including its origins in genetic and cultural evolution, hinge on a set of empirical claims about religious prosociality: whether, and through which particular pathways, certain religious beliefs and practices encourage prosocial behaviors. Here we synthesize and evaluate the scientific literature on religious prosociality, highlighting both gaps and open questions. Converging evidence from several fields suggests a nuanced pattern such that some religious beliefs and practices, under specific sociohistorical contexts, foster prosocial behaviors among strangers. This emerging picture is beginning to reveal the psychological mechanisms underlying religious prosociality. Further progress will depend on resolving outstanding puzzles, such as whether religious prosociality exists in small-scale societies, the extent to which it is constrained by in-group boundaries, and the psychology underlying various forms of disbelief. Published in the Strungmann Forum Reports Series.
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