CV



Academic Appointments


2020 - current Lecturer. Religion Programme, School of Social Science, University of Otago. Dunedin, New Zealand.
2019 - 2021 External Research Associate. Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. Jena, Germany.
2019 - 2020 Research Fellow. Religion Programme, School of Social Science, University of Otago. Dunedin, New Zealand.
2017 – 2019 Postdoctoral Research Fellow. Social and Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group, University of Oxford. Oxford, United Kingdom.
2016 – 2019 Postdoctoral Researcher. Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. Jena, Germany.


Education


2013 - 2017 Ph.D. in Psychlogy, School of Psychology, University of Auckland, New Zealand.
2012 B.Sc. Honours in Psychology (1st Class), School of Psychology, University of Auckland, New Zealand.
2009 - 2011 B.Sc. in Psychology and Philosophy, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.


Publications


Journal Articles

Jackson, J. C., Lindquist, K., Drabble, R., Atkinson, Q., & Watts, J. (Submitted). Negative Words Mutate Faster than Positive Words in Lexical Evolution.

Charles, S., van Mulukom, V., Farias, M., Brown, J. E., Delmonte, R., Maraldi, E. O., Turner, L, Watts, F., Watts, J. & Dunbar, R. (Submitted). Religious rituals increase social bonding and pain threshold.

Jackson, J. C., Wilbanks, D., Bastian, B., Watts, J., DiMaggio, N., & Gray, K. (Submitted). Supernatural Explanations Across the Globe Are More Common for Natural Than Social Phenomena.

Sheehan, O., Atkinson, Q.D., Gray, R.D., Bulbulia, J. & Watts, J. (Submitted). The Coevolution of Religious and Political Authority in Austronesian Societies.

Watts, J., Hamerslag, E.M., Sprules, C., Shaver, J.H., & Dunbar, R.I.M. (2022). Food storage facilitates professional religious specialization in hunter-gatherer societies. Evolutionary Human Sciences, 4, E17.

Passmore, S., & Watts, J. (2022). WEIRD People and The Western Church: who made whom? Religion, Brain & Behavior.

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

Jackson, J.C., Watts, J., List, J.M., Puryear, C., Drabble, R., & Lindquist, K.A. (2021). From Text to Thought: How Analyzing Language Can Advance Psychological Science. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1-22.

Evans, C.L., Greenhill, S.J., Watts, J., List, J.M., Botero, C., Gray, R.D., & Kirby, K.R. (2021). The Uses and Abuses of Tree Thinking in Cultural Evolution. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 376 (1828), 20200056.

Leisterer-Peoples, S., Hardecker, S., Watts, J., Greenhill, S., Ross, C., and Haun, D. (2021). The Austronesian Game Taxonomy: A cross-cultural dataset of historical games. Humanities & Social Sciences Communications, 8 (113).

Shaver, J.H., Power, E.A., Purzycki, B.G., Watts, J., Sear, R., Shenk, M.K., Sosis, R., & Bulbulia, J.A. (2020). Church attendance and alloparenting: an analysis of fertility, social support and child development among English mothers. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 375 (1805), 20190428.

Watts, J., Passmore, S., Jackson, J.C., Ryzimski, C. & Dunbar, R.I.M. (2020). Text analysis shows conceptual overlap as well as domain-specific differences in Christian and secular worldviews. Cognition, 201 (104290), 1-5.

Jackson, J.C., Watts, J., Henry, T.R., List, J.M., Forkel, R., Mucha, P.J., Greenhill, S.J., Gray, R.D., & Lindquist, K.A. (2019). Emotion semantics show both cultural variation and universal structure. Science, 366 (6472), 1517-1522.

Watts, J., Sheehan, O., Bulbulia, J., Gray, R.D., & Atkinson, Q.D. (2018). Christianity spread faster in small politically structured societies. Nature Human Behaviour, 2, 559-564.

Sheehan, O., Watts, J., Gray, R.D., & Atkinson, Q.D. (2018). Coevolution of landesque capital intensive agriculture and sociopolitical hierarchy. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115 (14), 3628-3633.

Gray, R.D., & Watts, J. (2017). Cultural macroevolution matters. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(30), 7846-7852.

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

Watts, J., Sheehan, O., Atkinson, Q.D., Bulbulia, J., & Gray, R.D. (2016). Ritual human sacrifice promoted and sustained the evolution of stratified societies. Nature, 532 (7598), 228-231.

Watts, J. Bulbulia, J., Gray, R.D., & Atkinson, Q.D. (2016). Clarity and Causality Needed in Claims about Big Gods (Commentary). Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 39, 41-42.

Watts, J., Greenhill, S., Atkinson, Q., Currie, T., Bulbulia, J., & Gray, R. (2015). Broad supernatural punishment but not moralizing high gods precede the evolution of political complexity in Austronesia. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London: Biology, 282 (1804), 20142.

Watts, J., Sheehan, O., Greenhill, S.J., Gomes-Ng, S., Atkinson, Q.D., Bulbulia, J., & Gray, R.D. (2015). Pulotu: Database of Austronesian Supernatural Beliefs and Practices. PLoS ONE, 10 (9), e0136783.

Atkinson, Q., Latham, A., & Watts, J. (2014). Are big gods a big deal in the emergence of big groups? Religion, Brain & Behaviour, 5 (4), 266-274.

Low, J., & Watts, J. (2013). Attributing false-beliefs about object identity is a signature blindspot in humans' efficient mind-reading system. Psychological Science, 24 (3), 305-311.

Book Chapters

Watts, J. (Submitted). The Cultural Macroevolution of Religion.

Watts, J., Sheehan, O., Atkinson, Q.D., Bulbulia, J., & Gray, R.D. (2019). Did ritual human sacrifice help build and sustain social inequality? In D.J. Slone & W.W. McCorkle Jr. (Eds.) The Cognitive Science of Religion: A Methodological Introduction to Key Empirical Studies. Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic.

Watts, J., Gray, R.D., & Bulbulia, J. (2018). The New Collaborative Scientific Study of Religious History. In A. K. (Ed.) Evolution, Cognition, and the History of Religion: A New Synthesis. Leiden: Brill.

Articles for a General Audience

Purzycki, B. G. and Watts, J. (2018). Reinvigorating the cooperative, comparative ethnographic sciences of religion. Free Inquiry, 38(3): 26-29.

Watts, J. (2016). How human sacrifice helped to enforce social inequality. Aeon.

Watts, J. (2016). The Function of Human Sacrifice in Ancient Societies. The Conversation, This View of Life and IFL Science.

Watts, J. (2015). Did Fear In Supernatural Punishment Build Complex Societies? This View of Life.



Selected Media Coverage


The Times. Power not poverty spreads Christianity, study finds. By Tom Whipple.

The Herald, NZ. What Christianity's spread teaches us about social change.

Science. Human sacrifice may have helped societies become more complex. By Emily Benson.

The Guardian. Study shows human sacrifice was less likely in more equal societies. By Tim Radford.

New York Times. Why Some Societies Practiced Ritual Human Sacrifice. By Tatiana Schlossberg.

Nature. Complex societies evolved without belief in all-powerful deity. By Philip Ball. Re-posted in Scientific American, and The Richard Dawkins Foundation.

Science. To foster complex societies, tell people a god is watching. By Lizzie Wade.

Additional media coverage here


Grants


2019 Cross-cultural Patterns in Theory of Mind.
Team: Watts, J. (PI), Greenhill, S. , & Low, J.
Marsden Fund, Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi (19-VUW-188).
2020 The Evolution and Endurance of Religious Explanations.
Team: Jackson, J.C., Watts, J (AI), Bastian, B., Gray, K.
Issachar Fund, Templeton Religion Trust
2019 Characterizing and Predicting Variation in Gods’ Minds across Culture and History.
Team: Gray, K, Jackson, J.C., Purzycki, B. Watts, J. (AI)
John Templeton Foundation (61111)
2016 Religion and the Social Brain.
Team: Reiss, M, Dunbar, D, Turner, L, Farais, M, Watts, J (AI), Lockhard, A., Bretherton, R., Vermon, M.
Templeton Religion Trust (TRT0153)


Awards


2017 Vice-Chancellor’s Prize for Best Doctoral Thesis. University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.
2013 Ph.D. Scholarship, University of Auckland. Auckland, New Zealand.
2011 Summer Research Scholarship, Victoria University of Wellington. Wellington, New Zealand.


Conference Talks


Modelling Secularization across Nations Using Phylogenetic Causal Path Analysis (2021). Cultural Evolution Society Conference. Online.

The Emergence of Professional Religious Specialists in Hunter-gatherer Societies (2021). European Human Behaviour and Evolution Association Annual Conference. Online.

Modelling Secularization across Nations Using Phylogenetic Causal Path Analysis (2021). The Evolutionary Dynamics of Religion, Family Size and Child Success Seminar Series. Online.

Predicting the emergence of paid religious specialists in hunter-gatherer societies (2019). International Society for Science and Religion Conference. Oxford, United Kingdom.

The evolution of secular and religious leadership were tightly coupled and mutually reinforcing in early Austronesian societies (2018). Cultural Evolution Society Conference. Tempe, United States of America.

Greater political hierarchy predicts faster conversion to Christianity (2017). European Human Behaviour and Evolution Association Annual Conference. Paris, France.

Pulotu: The Database of Austronesian Supernatural Beliefs and Practices (2017). Cultural Evolution Society Conference. Jena, Germany.

Pulotu, the Database of Pacific Religions: Construction and Data Analysis (2016). Centre for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University. Stanford, United States of America.

Announcing Pulotu! A Public Database of Pacific Supernatural Belief and Practice (2015). World Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions. Erfurt, Germany.

The Function of Human Sacrifice in Austronesia (2015). Human Behaviour and Evolution Society. Columbia, United States of America.

The Evolution of Moralising Gods and Political Complexity (2013). Allan Wilson Centre Conference. Palmerston North, New Zealand.


Invited Talks & Lectures


Testing Evolutionary Theories of Religion Across Cultures (2019). University of Oxford Department for Continuing Education. University of Oxford, United Kingdom.

The cultural evolution of supernatural beliefs and practices (2018). School of Psychology. Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand.

Testing for Co-evolution with Pagel’s Discrete (2017). Quantitative Methods Spring School. Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany.

The Cultural Evolution of Religion (2017). Life Sciences Kolleg. German National Academic Foundation, Germany.

The Social Control Hypothesis of Human Sacrifice (2015). Social and Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group, University of Oxford. Oxford, United Kingdom.

Supernatural Punishment in the Pacific (2014). School of Art History, Classics & Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.


Teaching


2021 - current The cultural evolution of religous systems (Course Coordinator). Religion Programme, University of Otago, New Zealand
2021 - current Religion and Human Behaviour (Course Coordinator). Religion Programme, University of Otago, New Zealand
2013 - 2015 Evolution, Behaviour, and Cognition (Graduate Teaching Assistant). School of Psychology, University of Auckland, New Zealand


Service


2020 - current Internet Officer. International Association for the Cognitive and Evolutionary Sciences of Religion
2020 - current Vice-president. New Zealand Association for the Study of Religions
2020 - current Postgraduate Student Coordinator. Religion Programme, University of Otago
2020 - 2021 Seminar series and events coordinator. Religion Programme, University of Otago
2019 - 2020 Steam Co-Chair. International Association for the History of Religion Congress.
2018 Scientific Committee Member. Applications in Cultural Evolution: Arts, Languages, Technologies Conference.
2016 - 2017 Regional Editor. Database of Religious History.
2013 - current Editor. Pulotu database of Austronesian religion and culture

Ad-hoc reviewer for: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Current Anthropology, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Religion, Brain & Behavior, Ethology; Evolution and Human Behaviour, Journal of Anthropological Research, Palgrave Communications, Plos One, Studies in Religion-Sciences Religieuses, International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, Human Nature, Archive for the Psychology of Religion



Professional Memberships


2020 - current Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi
2020 - current International Association for the Cognitive and Evolutionary Science of Religion
2020 - current New Zealand Association for the Study of Religion
2020 - current Core Member, Centre for Research on Evolution, Belief and Behaviour
2019 - current Cultural Evolution Society
2019 - current European Human Behaviour and Evolution Association