DP17878 Did seismic activity lead to the rise of religions?
We hypothesize that natural disasters, such as earthquakes, may have facilitated the rise of the major religions of today. To motivate, we combine an empirical literature linking contemporary natural disasters - earthquakes in particular – to religiosity with a qualitative literature observing religious responses to ancient earthquakes. Using modern data from surveys, the first part shows that religiosity has increased in the aftermath of disasters such as earthquakes. As emotional effects can be analytically disentangled from those of physical destruction, religious coping seems the most potent link; people use their religion for comfort and explanation to match the otherworldly aspect of seismic destruction. The second part shows that the major religions of the modern world emerged in a remarkably tight band along seismically active plate-tectonic boundaries, suggesting the persistence of this link. The third part shows that several immediate cultural responses to historic earthquakes have been religious. We conclude that religion may have emerged as a response to the unanswerable questions posed by earthquakes, and as a provider of comfort to survivors. Earthquakes may thus have played a pivotal role for millennia in the emergence and persistence of religion.