John ShaverJohn Shaver

BA (IUP) MA PhD (UConn)

Associate Professor
Head of the Religion Programme
Director, Centre for Research on Evolution, Belief and Behaviour
Room: Richardson 4S8
Tel: 64 3 471 6459

John Shaver is Associate Professor in the Anthropology of Religion and Head of the Religion Programme. He is an evolutionary anthropologist concerned mostly with understanding the relationships between social inequality, cooperation and conflict. He has conducted research in the Czech Republic, Fiji, Mauritius, New Zealand and the United States, and his work has appeared in anthropology, biology, neuroscience, religion, psychology and general science journals. John is President of the International Association for the Cognitive and Evolutionary Sciences of Religion and he sits on the advisory board for the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study. John is also editor of Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia for the Database of Religious History. In 2019 he was awarded a University of Otago Early Career Award for Distinction in Research.

Currently John is dividing his time between two externally funded projects. One is a Marsden Funded project to collect longitudinal ethnographic and cooperative network data from individuals living in Fijian villages and informal settlements, which hopes to provide the data necessary for understanding of the dynamic interplay between religious institutions, cooperation and inequality.

The second is the Templeton funded project, The Evolutionary Dynamics of Religion, Family Size, and Child Success." This research is briefly explained in the project's executive summary:

Across the world religious people have more children than their secular counterparts. Offspring number, in modern environments, is inversely related to child success, yet children born to religious parents often flourish. Currently we have little understanding of how religion impacts the number of children people have or their children’s outcomes, and why these dynamics vary across religious groups. Moreover, processes of modernization greatly affect fertility, but it is unclear how these processes of social change interact with religion’s influence on reproductive decision-making and child success. These issues are of critical importance because they can inform understandings of how religion impacts core biological processes, and how these effects are altered by recent and broad social changes. To address these issues our experienced team of evolutionary anthropologists and demographers will systematically test hypotheses on data collected from 6,080 participants representing six religions, on three continents, in five societies with differing degrees of modernization, and on existing datasets from around the world, efficiently investigating questions of wide social significance at a global scale. This research will usher in a new scholarly field focused on the evolutionary demography of religion, train young scholars to advance this new field, produce 20 high-impact journal articles, contribute 15 conference presentations, host a major public conference, contribute to policy and development initiatives in the modernizing world, and inform public debates on the resilience of religion in the modern era.


Papers taught in 2021

Summer School
Psychology of Religion
First semester
Evolution of Religion

Click on the paper code for further information about the paper, including prescriptions and timetables.

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

Forthcoming. Spake, L., Schaffnit, S.B., Sear, R., Shenk, M.K., Sosis, R., and Shaver, John H. Mother’s partnership status and allomothering networks in the United Kingdom and United States. Social Sciences. X(X): X-XX.

Forthcoming. 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. 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.

2020. Shaver. J.H. & Kavanagh, C. 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.

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

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., Jerotijević, 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., Jerotijević, 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.

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

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.

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.

Book Chapters

Forthcoming. 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. X(X):XX-XX

2019. Lang, M., Krátký, J., Shaver, J., Jerotijević, 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.

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University of Otago Religious Studies Programme