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Climate Variability, Drought, and the Belief that High Gods Are Associated with Weather in Nonindustrial Societies

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  • 1 Human Relations Area Files, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
  • | 2 Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
  • | 3 Western Sydney University, Penrith, New South Wales, Australia
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Abstract

All societies have religious beliefs, but societies vary widely in the number and type of gods in which they believe as well as their ideas about what the gods do. In many societies, a god is thought to be responsible for weather events. In some of those societies, a god is thought to cause harm with weather and/or can choose to help, such as by bringing needed rain. In other societies, gods are not thought to be involved with weather. Using a worldwide, largely nonindustrial sample of 46 societies with high gods, this research explores whether certain climate patterns predict the belief that high gods are involved with weather. Our major expectation, largely supported, was that such beliefs would most likely be found in drier climates. Cold extremes and hot extremes have little or no relationship to the beliefs that gods are associated with weather. Since previous research by Skoggard et al. showed that greater resource stress predicted the association of high gods with weather, we also tested mediation path models to help us evaluate whether resource stress might be the mediator explaining the significant associations between drier climates and high god beliefs. The climate variables, particularly those pertaining to dryness, continue to have robust relationships to god beliefs when controlling on resource stress; at best, resource stress has only a partial mediating effect. We speculate that drought causes humans more anxiety than floods, which may result in the greater need to believe supernatural beings are not only responsible for weather but can help humans in times of need.

Significance Statement

There has been a recent resurgence in climate–culture studies focusing on specific cultural effects of climate and avoiding the broad generalizations that had marred such studies in the past. Given accelerated climate change, it is especially important today to understand how climate change may influence human behavior and associated cultural beliefs and practices. We use anthropological data from the recent past to explore the relationships between climate patterns and culture. Here we focus on societal beliefs about godly involvement with weather. We find that there is a relationship between aridity or drought and high gods’ involvement with weather, suggesting further exploration of linkages between climate and religious beliefs.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/WCAS-D-20-0080.s1.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Carol R. Ember, carol.ember@yale.edu

Abstract

All societies have religious beliefs, but societies vary widely in the number and type of gods in which they believe as well as their ideas about what the gods do. In many societies, a god is thought to be responsible for weather events. In some of those societies, a god is thought to cause harm with weather and/or can choose to help, such as by bringing needed rain. In other societies, gods are not thought to be involved with weather. Using a worldwide, largely nonindustrial sample of 46 societies with high gods, this research explores whether certain climate patterns predict the belief that high gods are involved with weather. Our major expectation, largely supported, was that such beliefs would most likely be found in drier climates. Cold extremes and hot extremes have little or no relationship to the beliefs that gods are associated with weather. Since previous research by Skoggard et al. showed that greater resource stress predicted the association of high gods with weather, we also tested mediation path models to help us evaluate whether resource stress might be the mediator explaining the significant associations between drier climates and high god beliefs. The climate variables, particularly those pertaining to dryness, continue to have robust relationships to god beliefs when controlling on resource stress; at best, resource stress has only a partial mediating effect. We speculate that drought causes humans more anxiety than floods, which may result in the greater need to believe supernatural beings are not only responsible for weather but can help humans in times of need.

Significance Statement

There has been a recent resurgence in climate–culture studies focusing on specific cultural effects of climate and avoiding the broad generalizations that had marred such studies in the past. Given accelerated climate change, it is especially important today to understand how climate change may influence human behavior and associated cultural beliefs and practices. We use anthropological data from the recent past to explore the relationships between climate patterns and culture. Here we focus on societal beliefs about godly involvement with weather. We find that there is a relationship between aridity or drought and high gods’ involvement with weather, suggesting further exploration of linkages between climate and religious beliefs.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/WCAS-D-20-0080.s1.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Carol R. Ember, carol.ember@yale.edu

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