Religion doesn’t create the shift from Abel to Cain, from nomadic shepherd to town-centered farmer. But it smooths out the transition, Wesley Wildman says. It makes early towns more likely to succeed.
In part, that’s because religion demands unorthodox behaviors, rituals, appearing at worship services. These show who is willing to participate and who is not, which might help eliminate what economists call the free-rider problem, people who take the benefits of society without contributing to it. Those who won’t perform the rituals can be cast out, or shunned.
Meanwhile, shared beliefs soften what Wildman calls “the hatred of being watched by strangers.” Religion mattered in how communities formed, Wildman says. We often think of religion as divisive, forgetting it plays an important role in bringing different people together.