Moralizing Gods and Armed Conflict

23 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2017

Date Written: January 28, 2017


This study documents a robust empirical pattern between moralizing gods, which prescribe fixed laws of morality, and conflict prevalence and fatalities, using spatially referenced data for Africa on contemporary conflicts and ancestral belief systems of individual ethnic groups prior to European contact. Moralizing gods are found to significantly increase conflict prevalence and casualties at the local level. The identification strategy draws on the evolutionary psychology roots of moralizing gods as a solution to the collective action problem in pre-modern societies. A one standard deviation increase in the likelihood of emergence of a moralizing god increases casualties by 18 to 36% and conflict prevalence by 4 to 8% approximately.

Keywords: Conflict, Commitment Problem, Religion, Africa, Cooperation

JEL Classification: D74, O55, Z12

Suggested Citation

Skali, Ahmed, Moralizing Gods and Armed Conflict (January 28, 2017). Journal of Economic Psychology, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Ahmed Skali (Contact Author)

University of Groningen ( email )

P.O. Box 800
9700 AH Groningen, Groningen 9700 AV

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