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A cross-cultural analysis of the relationship between subsistence productivity and religious eschatology using data from the Human Relations Area Files: a test of a hypothesis drawn from the Marvin Harris' theory of Cultural Materialism
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This thesis used a cross-cultural sample of ethnographic data collected from the Human Relations Area Files to test the hypothesis, drawn from Marvin Harris' theory of Cultural Materialism, that the presence of a judgmental eschatology (or fate of the soul after death) in a given society is positively correlated with the level of subsistence productivity in that society. Specifically, societies low on the scale of productive complexity were predicted to lack judgmental eschatologies, while societies high on the scale were predicted to have them. The final sample group consisted of 271 cultures, each of which was coded for level of subsistence productivity and for the nature of their eschatology. The level of subsistence productivity was measured in three ways: first, in terms of the broad subsistence classifications (collectors, hunters and fishers, incipient producers, etc.) defined by Alan Lomax in his article A Worldwide Evolutionary Classification of Cultures by Subsistence Systems (1977); secondly, by the percentage of total subsistence activity accounted for by agriculture; and finally, by the intensity of a culture's agricultural practices. The nature of a culture's eschatology was coded as either judgmental or non-judgmental. The coded data was then subjected to a Chi-Square test of significance, and to Pearson's, Spearman's, and Kendall's Tau-b tests to determine the correlation coefficient. Each test was performed three times - once for each of the three subsistence codes versus eschatology. In each case, the Chi-Square test rejected the null hypothesis (that there was no correlation between level of subsistence productivity and eschatology) at a 0.001 level of significance, thus supporting the conclusion that the presence of a judgmental eschatology in a given society is, in fact, related to the level of subsistence productivity in that society. The correlation coefficients ranged from 0.331-0.469, and were all significant at the 0.0001 level. Thus, the proposed hypothesis, and in turn the theory of Cultural Materialism from which it was drawn, were supported by the data, suggesting that the nature of religious beliefs are, at least in part, a product of a culture's subsistence system.
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Includes bibliographical references (leaves 45-47).
Issued also on microfiche from Lange Micrographics.
Olson, Jeffery Soland (2000). A cross-cultural analysis of the relationship between subsistence productivity and religious eschatology using data from the Human Relations Area Files: a test of a hypothesis drawn from the Marvin Harris' theory of Cultural Materialism. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from
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