Exploring cultural evolution of big gods by distant reading of ancient Greek texts (Plos One)
The article explores the Big Gods hypothesis from the area of cultural evolutionary study of religion by analyzing a corpus of ancient texts in Greek by means of quantitative text analysis methods (i.e. distant reading). The analysis focuses on changes in the context of usage of the Greek term theos (god) in time (in the time span from 8th century BC to 5th century CE) and in dependence on cultural provenience of the source (either Christian or non-Christian) . The context of usage of the target term in relevent sub-corpora has been accessed by two complementary methods: by analyzing nearest neighbors of the target term in a textual network formed on the basis of bigrams in the sub-corpus. To validate this approach, we additionally analyzed most frequent terms occurring in the target term's concordance context. The results rather challange the Big Gods hypothesis, as they do not indicate that the target term was becoming represented as equipped with bigger power and moral concern over time, as would the theory predict. The results of the analyses are complemented by interactive visualizations enabling an interpretation of the going behind the scope of this article.