It’s official: Religions have divided, not united people, for over 2,000 years

Anthropologists say religious ties did not bind early societies together as had previously been thought

By Caroline Mortimer | 22 December 2015
The Independent

Religious conflict has been dividing human society for more than 2,000 years, scientists say.

A new anthropological study of several Mexican archaeological sites dating back to 700BC has appeared to contradict a long-held belief that religion united early state societies.

In fact, researchers from the University of Colorado and the University of Central Florida believe it may have had the opposite effect.

After several years of field research in the Rio Verde valley and the Valley of Oaxaca on Mexico’s Pacific coast, Professor Arthur A. Joyce and Associate Professor Sarah Barber found that local religious rituals helped to forge strong small scale community links which delayed the development of large state institutions.

In the period they were studying – from approximately 700BC to 250AD – they found elites came to dominate religious life and controlled the connection between communities and their gods – leading to conflict with traditional community leaders.

This eventually lead to the formation of a regional state with the hilltop city of Monte Albán as its capital.

The religious conflict in the lower Rio Verde valley eventually lead to the quick decline of regional power centres with grand temples being built by 100AD only to be abandoned a century later.

Professor Joyce from the University of Colorado said: “In both the Valley of Oaxaca and the Lower Río Verde Valley, religion was important in the formation and history of early cities and states, but in vastly different ways.

“Given the role of religion in social life and politics today, that shouldn’t be too surprising.”

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13 COMMENTS

  1. Wow, this is article just shouts to be torn apart:

    1) The title is so incredibly misleading. This is only concerning one small area in Mexico. It's not regarding any other religion anywhere in the world.

    2) There's no background information what-so-ever to describe how the researchers came to this conclusion. Are these based on numerous documents that all came to point to the ideas they found? How did they come to the conclusion that there was a religious conflict? Was this between multiple religions?

    3) The article actually contradicts itself.

    "….local religious rituals helped to forge strong small scale community links which delayed the development of large state institutions."

    "In the period they were studying – from approximately 700BC to 250AD – they found elites came to dominate religious life and controlled the connection between communities and their gods – leading to conflict with traditional community leaders.

    This eventually lead to the formation of a regional state with the hilltop city of Monte Albán as its capital."

    So, are you discussing two different locations that were different? Nothing is explained.

    If you're going to write an article with such a strong statement, you need to have information to back it up.

  2. The tenets of the religion would decide the outcome. Monotheistic and exclusive religions would continue to create divisions and predictable conflicts. Monotheistic but pluralistic religions that accept and respect other religions would provide the answer for cohesion and progress in unity, such as the Sanatana Dharma. In future, spiritualism would become popular and those agnostics and atheists would probably take to seeking methods such as Yoga to personally experience the divine Energy!

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