John ShaverJohn Shaver

BA (IUP) MA PhD (UConn)

Associate Professor
Director, Centre for Research on Evolution, Belief and Behaviour
Room: Richardson 5S4, 5th Floor, Richardson South Tower
Tel: 64 3 479 8897

John Shaver is a biocultural and evolutionary anthropologist. At the broadest level, his research employs evolutionary theory to understand variation in human behavior and health outcomes. He is currently part of a team of researchers investigating how women's religious involvement impacts their health and fertility, and influences the health and development of their children. More detail about this project can be found on the project's website. John has conducted research in the Czech Republic, Fiji, the Gambia, Mauritius, New Zealand and the United States. His work is interdisciplinary and has appeared in anthropology, biology, neuroscience, religion, psychology and general science journals. He is a co-editor of Religion, Brain and Behavior.


Papers taught in 2024

Summer School
Psychology of Religion

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Postgraduate Supervision

John encourages inquiries from prospective Ph.D. candidates working on topics related to the evolutionary, psychological and scientific study of religion. Otago's Ph.D. program is three years long and the university offers competitive scholarships to highly qualified applicants with a record of academic excellence. For general information on Otago's Ph.D. program see here.


Journal Articles

2022. Schaffnit, S., Page, A., Lynch, R., Spake, L., Sear, R., Sosis, R., Shaver, J., Alam, N., Towner, M., and Mary K. Shenk. The impact of market integration on arranged marriages in Matlab, Bangladesh. Evolutionary Human Sciences. 1-39.

2022. Lynch, R., Schaffnit, S., Sear, R., Sosis, R., Shaver, J., Alam, N., Blumenfield, T., Mattison, S.M., and Mary K. Shenk. Religiosity is associated with greater size, kin density, and geographic dispersal of women’s social networks in Bangladesh. Scientific Reports. 12, 18780.

2022. Watts, J., Hamerslag, E.M., Sprules, C., Shaver, J.H., and Robin I.M. Dunbar. Food storage facilitates professional religious specialization in hunter-gatherer societies. Evolutionary Human Sciences. 4(e17): 1-11.

2022. White, T. and John H. Shaver. Integrating Pacific research methodologies with western social science research methods: Quantifying pentecostalism’s effect on Fijian relationality. Pacific Dynamics. 6(2): 118-135

2021. Watts, J., Jackson, J.C., Arnison, C., Hamerslag, E.M., Shaver, J.H., and Purzycki, B.G. Building Quantitative Cross-cultural Databases from Ethnographic Records: Promise, Problems and Principles. Cross Cultural Research. 56(1) 62–94.

2021. Piven, S., Fischer, R., Shaver, J.H., Mogan, R., Karl, J., Kesberg, R., Richardson, A., Singh, P., Tewari, S., and Bulbulia, J. Kiwi Diwali: A longitudinal investigation of perceived social connection following a civic religious ritual. Religion, Brain and Behavior. X(X): X-XX.

2021. Shaver J.H., White T., Vakaoti P., and Lang M. A comparison of self-report, systematic observation, and third-party judgments of church attendance in a rural Fijian village. PLoS ONE.16 (10), e0257160.

2021. Xygalatas, D., Mano, P., Bahna, V., Klocová, E., Kundt, R., Lang, M., and Shaver, J.H. Social inequality and signaling in a costly ritual. Evolution and Human Behavior. 42(6): 524-533.

2021. Spake, L., Schaffnit, S.B., Sear, R., Shenk, M.K., Sosis, R., and Shaver, J.H. Mother’s partnership status and allomothering networks in the United Kingdom and United States. Social Sciences. 10: 182.

2021. Shenk, M., Morse, A., Mattison, S., Sear, R., Nurul, A., Raqib, R., Kumar, A., Haque, F., Blumenfeld, T., Shaver, J.H., Sosis, R., and Wander, K. Social support, nutrition, and health among women in rural Bangladesh: Complex tradeoffs in allocare, kin proximity, and social network size. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences. 376(20200027): 1-10.

2020. Sibley, C., Usman Afzali, M., Satherley, N., Ejova, A., Stronge, S., Yogeeswaran, K., Grimshaw, M., Hawi, D., Mirnajafi, Z., Barlow, F.K., Milojev, P., Greaves, L.M., Kapeli, S., Zubielevitch, E., Hamley, L., Basabas, M.C., Wu, M.H., Howard, C., Lee, C.H.J., Huang, Y., Lockhart, C., Bahamondes, J., Manuela, S., Milfonte, T.L., Perry, R., Sengupta, N.K., Overall, N.C., Shaver, J.H., Troughton, G., Osborne, D., and Bulbulia, J. Prejudice toward Muslims in New Zealand: Insights from the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study. New Zealand Journal of Psychology. 48: 49-72.

2020. Shaver, J.H., Power, E., Purzycki, B., Watts, J., Sosis, R., Sear, R., & Shenk, M. Church attendance and alloparenting: An analysis of fertility, social support, and child development among English mothers. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences. 375: 20190428.

2019. Shaver, J.H., Sibley, C., Sosis, R., Galbraith, D., and Joseph Bulbulia. Alloparenting and religious fertilty: A test of the religious alloparenting hypothesis. Evolution and Human Behavior. 40: 315-324.

2019. Xygalatas, D., Khan, S. Lang, M., Kundt, R., Kundtová Klocová, E., Krátký, J., and John H. Shaver. Effects of extreme ritual practices on psychophysiological well-being. Current Anthropology. 60(5): 699-707.

2019. Stronge, S., Shaver, J.H, Bulbulia, J., and Chris G. Sibley. Only children in the 21st century: Personality differences between adults with and without siblings are very, very small. Journal of Research in Personality. 83: 103868

2019. Highland, B. R., Troughton, G., Shaver, J.H., Barrett, J., Sibley, C. G., and Joseph Bulbulia. (2019). Attitudes to religion predict warmth for Muslims in New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Psychology. 48(1): 122-132.

2018. Shaver, J.H., Lang, M. Krátký, J., Kundtová Klocová, E., Kundt, R., and Dimitris Xygalatas. The boundaries of trust: Cross-religious and cross-ethnic field experiments in Mauritius. Evolutionary Psychology. 2018: 1-15.

2018. Wood, C. and John H. Shaver. Religion, Evolution, and the Basis of Institutions: The Institutional Cognition Model of Religion. Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture. 2(2): 1-20.

2018. Shaver, J.H., DiVietro, S., Lang, M., and Richard Sosis. Costs do not explain trust among secular groups. Journal of Cognition and Culture. 18(1/2): 1-25.

2017. Lang, M., Bahna, V., Shaver, J.H., Reddish, P., and Dimitris Xygalatas. Sync to link: Endorphin-mediated synchrony effects on cooperation. Biological Psychology. 127: 191-197.

2017. Shaver, J.H., Sibley, C., Osborne, D. and Joseph Bulbulia. News exposure predicts anti-Muslim prejudice. PLoS ONE. 12 (3): e0174606.

2017. Shaver, John H. Why and how do some religious individuals, and some religious groups, achieve higher relative fertility? Religion, Brain and Behavior. 7(4): 324-327.

2017. Bulbulia, J., Fraser, G., Watts, J., Shaver, J.H., and Russell Gray. Can honest signaling theory clarify religion’s role in the evolution of social inequality? Religion, Brain and Behavior. 7(4): 285-288.

2016. Krátký, J., Lang, M., Shaver, J., Jerotijevic, D., and Dimitris Xygalatas. Anxiety and ritualization: Can attention discriminate compulsion from routine? Communicative and Integrative Biology. 9 (3): e1174799.

2016. Shaver, J.H., Troughton, G., Sibley, C., and Joseph Bulbulia. Religion and the unmaking of prejudice toward Muslims: Evidence from a large national sample. PLoS ONE 11(3): e0150209.

2016. Cristofori, I., Bulbulia, J., Shaver, J.H., Wilson, M., Krueger, F. and Jordan Grafman. Neural correlates of mystical experience. Neuropsychologia. 80(8): 212 - 220.

2016. McCullough, M., Swartout, P., Shaver, J.H., Carter, E., and Richard Sosis. Christian religious badges instill trust in Christian and non-Christian perceivers. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality 8(2): 149-163.

2015. Lang, M., Krátký, J., Shaver, J.H., Jerotijevic, D., and Dimitris Xygalatas. Effects of anxiety on spontaneous ritualized behavior. Current Biology. 25(14): 1892 - 1897.

2015. Shaver, John H. The evolution of stratification in Fijian ritual participation. Religion, Brain and Behavior 5(2): 101-117.

2014. Shaver, J.H., and Richard Sosis. Selective reading and selectionist thinking: Why violence has been, and should be, important to the cognitive science of religion. Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion 2(1): 41-46. [Republished in: Martin, L. H., and Wiebe, M. (eds.), (2016). Conversations and Controversies in the Scientific Study of Religion: Collaborative and Co-authored Essays by Luther H. Martin and Donald Wiebe . Boston: Brill, pp. 168-173.]

2014. Scott, I., Clark, A., Josephson, S., Boyette, Adam., Cuthill, I., Fried, R., Gibson, M., Hewlett, B., Jamieson, M., Jankowiak, W., Honey, P., Huang, Z., Liebert, M., Purzycki, B., Shaver, J.H., Snodgrass, J., Sosis, R., Sugiyama, L., Swami, V., Yu, D., Zhao, Y., and Ian Penton-Voak. Human preferences for sexually dimorphic faces may be evolutionarily novel. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 11(40): 14388-14393.

2014. Shaver, J.H. and Richard Sosis. How does male ritual behavior vary across the lifespan? An examination of Fijian kava ceremonies. Human Nature 25(1), 136-160.

2012. Purzycki, B. G., Finkel, D. N., Shaver, J.H., Wales, N., Cohen, A. B., and Richard Sosis. What does god know? Supernatural agents’ access to socially strategic and nonstrategic information. Cognitive Science 36(5): 846-869.

Book Chapters

2022. Sosis, R., Shaver, J.H., Purzycki, B., Kiper, J. Soul Mates? Conflicts and Complementarities in the Evolutionary and Cognitive Sciences of Religion. In Oxford Handbook for the Cognitive Science of Religion, Justin Barrett, Ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 349-370.

2019. Lang, M., Krátký, J., Shaver, J., Jerotijevic, D., and Dimitris Xygalatas. Does anxiety induce ritual behavior? In Empirical Studies in the Cognitive Science of Religion, Jason Slone, Ed., Bloomsbury Academic Press, pp. 188-198

2018. Shaver, J.H. and Richard Sosis. Costly signaling in human cultures. In International Encyclopedia of Anthropology: Evolutionary and Biosocial Perspectives in Anthropology, Camilla Power Ed., Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 1-7.

2018. Shaver, J.H., Sibley, C., and Joseph Bulbulia. Are contemporary Christian New Zealanders committed to peace? In Pursuing Peace. G. Troughton and P. Fountain Eds., Victoria University Press, pp. 201-212.

2017. Shaver, J.H., Fraser, G., and Joseph Bulbulia. Charismatic signaling: How religion stabilizes cooperation and entrenches inequality. In The Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology and Religion. T. Shackelford and J. Liddle Eds., Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 1-31.

2017. Porubanova, M. and John H. Shaver. Minimal counterintuitiveness revisited, again. The role of emotional valence in memory for conceptual incongruity. In Religion Explained? The Cognitive Science of Religion after 25 years, L. Martin and D. Wiebe Eds., London: Bloomsbury Press, pp. 123-132.

2016. Shaver, J.H., Purzycki, B., and Richard Sosis. Evolutionary theory and the study of religion. In The Oxford Handbook of the Study of Religion. M. Stausberg and S. Engler Eds., Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 124-136.

2016. Shaver, J.H. and Joseph Bulbulia. Signaling theory and religion. In Religion: Mental Religion.. N. Clements, Ed., Farmington Hills: MacMillan, pp. 101-117.

2015. Purzycki, B.G., Kiper, J., Shaver, J.H., Finkel, D. and Richard Sosis. Religion. In Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences, R. Scott and S. Kosslyn Eds., New York: Wiley, pp. 1-16.

2015. Bulbulia, J.A., Shaver, J.H., Greaves, L., Sosis, R. and Chris Sibley. Religion and parental cooperation: An empirical test of Slone’s sexual signaling model. In The Attraction of Religion: A Sexual Selectionist Account. D. Slone and J Van Slyke Eds., Bloomsbury Press, pp 29-62.

Editorials, Commentaries & Book Symposia

2022. Spake, L., Hassan, A., Sear, R., Shenk, M. K., Sosis, R., & John H. Shaver. Disentangling the relationships between religion and fertility. Religion, Brain & Behavior, 12(4), 343-346.

2022. Sosis, R., Wildman, W. J., Bulbulia, J., & John H. Shaver. changing of the guard. Religion, Brain & Behavior, 12(3), 233-234.

2022. Sosis, R., Bulbulia, J., Wildman, W., Schjoedt, U., and John H. Shaver. Introducing a special issue on phase two of the Evolution of Religion and Morality project. Religion, Brain and Behavior.

2022. Shaver, J.H., Spake, L., Lynch, R., and Mary K. Shenk. Faith and fertility in evolutionary perspective. Religion, Brain and Behavior.

2022. Lynch, R., Spake, L., Shaver, J.H., and Mary K. Shenk. Faith and Fertility: Insights from human behavioral ecology, evolutionary psychology, and life history theory. Religion, Brain and Behavior.

2021. Bulbulia, J., Schjoedt, U., Shaver, J.H., Sosis, R., and Wesley Wildman. Causal inference in regression: Advice to authors. Religion, Brain and Behavior.11 (4), 353-360.

2020. Shaver, J.H. and Chris Kavanagh. Religious Diversity and the Cognitive Science of Religion: New Experimental & Fieldwork Approaches. Journal of Religion, Nature and Culture. 14(1): 5-11.

2020. Shaver, John H. Religious change is driven primarily by individual-level Darwinian processes. Religion, Brain and Behavior. 10(1): 84-90.

2017. Shaver, J.H. and Benjamin Purzycki. The evolution of religious diversity. Religion, Brain and Behavior. 8(4): 444-447.

2015. Sosis, R. and John H. Shaver. How rituals elicit shared sacred values. Interdisciplinary Anthropology. 3: 75-81.

2009. Sosis, R. and John H. Shaver. Comment for Attachment and cooperation in religious groups: An example of a mechanism for cultural group selection. Current Anthropology 50: 775-776.

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University of Otago Religious Studies Programme