Religious belief and cooperation in Viking societies

Author(s): Mark Collard; Ben Raffield; Neil Price

Year: 2017


It has become clear in recent years that it was not uncommon for Viking groups to be heterogeneous. Numerous studies carried out over the last 25 years indicate that, in the short term at least, sociocultural diversity has a negative impact on trust within communities, and that this leads to a reduction in the willingness of community members to support public projects. Thus, one issue raised by the discovery that many Viking groups were heterogeneous is how loyalty to the group was achieved. In the present paper, we seek to shed some light on this question. Recent work in the field known as the Cognitive Science of Religion suggests that certain religious beliefs can reduce selfishness and enhance within-group cooperation. Supernatural monitoring—wherein deities observe human thoughts and actions in order to identify and punish those who fail to act prosocially—is thought to be particularly important in this regard. With this in mind, we review archaeological data and written sources to address the question "did Norse gods engage in supernatural monitoring?" We show that there is reason to believe that the Norse gods were perceived to monitor human thoughts and actions and that this likely promoted a parochial form of prosociality.

Cite this Record

Religious belief and cooperation in Viking societies. Mark Collard, Ben Raffield, Neil Price. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 430720)


Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -11.074; min lat: 37.44 ; max long: 50.098; max lat: 70.845 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 15951