Can Western Church Influence Explain Western Individualism? Comment on “The Church, Intensive Kinship, and Global Psychological Variation” by Jonathan F. Schulz et al.
In a recent contribution “The Church, Intensive Kinship, and Global Psychological Variation”, Schulz, Bahrami-Rad, Beauchamp & Henrich (2019) propose a central role for the medieval Church in the development of European individualism, primarily by its antagonism toward endogamy and the discouragement of the intensive kinship structures characteristic of other historical civilizations. This contrasts with my recently published book Individualism and the Western Liberal Tradition: Evolutionary Origins, History, and Prospects for the Future (MacDonald, 2019), 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.Download PDF