The Biblical World and Cultural Evolution


Cultural evolution is a fresh, multidisciplinary field of research, which investigates the variation, selection and transmission of human culture. The dual inheritance or biocultural approaches, in particular, consider the role of both biology and socially learned information in the evolutionary changes of human culture. Evolutionary approaches have gained acceptance because of their cogent theory and applicability to different areas of human culture, such as  language, technology, complex societies, and semiotic shifts. Culture is a highly semiotic phenomenon, being all about how meaning is made and remade, but alongside the qualitative study of culture, the cultural evolutionary approach applies various methods of quantitative modelling and statistical analysis, thus helping to bridge the gap between the information gained in the natural sciences and humanities.


The basic premise of the unit is that cultural evolutionary processes also produce the patterns of religious complexity and variation in religious systems. Applying this approach to the domain of the Bible, its world, and its reception means that scholars seek evolutionary explanations for the religious reality in the Ancient Near East, Late Antiquity and beyond.


This EABS unit proposes to be a wide scope platform where scholars who are developing their own cultural evolutionary approaches and studies can present their ideas and test them on interested colleagues. The unit also serves as a platform for the project “Early Christianity in Cultural Evolution”.


Cognitive Science of Religion, Early Christianity, Early Judaism, Cultural Evolution, Emotions


Ronit Nikolsky
Groningen University

Nina Nikki University of Helsinki
Member Area

Toulouse 2022 Call for Papers

This year we will look through the lens of Cultural Evolution at a big question that has a close bearing on the study of the Biblical world, namely the relationship between culture and religion. What constitutes culture? Is religion part of culture, or something separate? What is the relation between the two? Do religion and culture change in the same way? What is the role of biology in both?


In this session, we want to explore the possibilities offered by the cultural evolutionary perspective to reframe and clarify this classic source of vagueness and debate. We are particularly interested in the impact of this discussion on the study of ancient religions. 


The session welcomes both theoretically oriented discussions and historical case studies that shed new light on this question.

We are looking for papers relating to this topic, with questions such as:

  • Can we differentiate between culture and religion in the ancient world?
  • How can we navigate the interfaces between religion, culture, and biology?
  • How to describe in cultural-evolutionary terms the new religions that emerged. 
  • Can we perceive changes in the religions of the ancient world throughout time, and how do we periodize this long duration?
  • Is the concept of the Axial Age relevant for describing religions of the ancient world?

Papers will be considered for publication in a thematic issue of AABNER, Advances in Ancient Biblical and Near Eastern Research.

We will also have this year, as usual, an open session, where scholars can present their work relating to the Bible and cultural evolution, whether from the theoretical aspect or as case studies. In this session, we want to explore how a cultural evolutionary approach helps understand and conceptualize the biblical world, and especially the religions of it, and those that originated in this world.