A new study contradicts the belief that religion unites communities and says religion has actually been the source of conflict for over 2,000 years.
Scientists are of the opinion that conflicts with their roots in religion have divided human society for a major period in the species' history, over 2,000 years. It is a major move away from the previously held concept that religion actually played a beneficial role in cementing early societies.
Researchers from University of Colorado and University of Central Florida have published an anthropological study of a number of Mexican archeological sites. These sites date back to about 700 B.C. This study was published in this month’s Journal of Cultural Anthropology.
Professors Sarah Barber and Arthur A. Joyce spent a number of years conducting extensive field research in the Pacific Coast of Mexico. They found out that the local religious roles had a major say in assisting the small communities present there to develop connections. These, however, stymied development of bigger state institutions.
The study period in question started from 700 B.C. and extended to 250 A.D. Approximately 2,000 years before, there was a rise of powerful states in the Central American region, which presently covers Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala. Advanced early cultures also rose in Mesoamerica. These include ancient Olmecs, the powerful Mayans, and then the Aztecs. Each of them followed their own religious beliefs and political systems.
The researchers found that elites had dominated religious life during that period. They had almost total control when it came to connecting the communities with their gods, thus resulting in conflicts between them and the traditional community leaders. The conflict culminated in the formation of a specific regional state. Monte Alban was its capital.
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In Oaxaca, local religious rituals included offerings. These, along with burials created robust ties within the communities. This prevented state institutions from forming as infighting concerning religion between the local groups torpedoed any variety of civilization. Yet in another part of Oaxaca, priests from the elite community acted as intermediaries between gods and people. Religion played a major role in instigating such unruly behavior.
This religious conflict in the Rio Verde valley's lower regions ultimately led to the swift decline of the regional power centers. Grand temples were constructed around 100 A.D. They were abandoned only 100 years later. According to Professor Joyce from the University of Colorado, in both Rio Verde and Valley of Oaxaca, religion played a major role in the history and formation of early states and their cities.