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Current Positions

2017 – Present
Postdoctoral Research Fellow. Social and Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group, University of Oxford. Oxford, United Kingdom.

2016 – Present
Postdoctoral Researcher. Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. Jena, Germany.


Education

2013-2016
Ph.D. titled “The Cultural Evolution of Religion: A Phylogenetic Approach.” School of Psychology, University of Auckland, New Zealand.

2012
B.Sc. Honours (1st Class) in Psychology. University of Auckland, New Zealand.

2009-2011
B.Sc. in Psychology and Philosophy. Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.


Publications

Academic Articles

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

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., 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., Sheehan, O., Atkinson, Q.D., Bulbulia, J., & Gray, R.D. (In Press). 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. (In Press). 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.


Presentations

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

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

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

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

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

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

2014
The Evolution of Religion (Talk). Ph.D. Seminar Series. Auckland, New Zealand.

Big Gods and Big Societies (Talk). In-House Convention. Auckland, New Zealand.

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


Awards, Grants & Scholarships

2017
Vice-Chancellor’s Prize for Best Doctoral Thesis. University of Auckland, New Zealand.

2016
Co-investigator for the grant “Religion and the Social Brain” (TRT0153). Templeton Religion Trust.

2013-2016
University of Auckland Ph.D. Scholarship, New Zealand.

2011-2012
Summer Research Scholarship, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.


Teaching

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

2017. Guest Lecturer: The Cultural Evolution of Religion. Life Sciences Kolleg (postgraduate course), German National Academic Foundation, Germany.

2015. Guest Lecturer: The Evolution of Religion. Evolution, Behaviour, and Cognition (undergraduate course), School of Psychology, University of Auckland, New Zealand.

2015. Guest Lecturer: Quantitative Coding of Religious Traits. Advanced Studies in Religion and Society (postgraduate course), School of Art History, Classics & Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

2014. Guest Lecturer: Supernatural Punishment in the Pacific. The World’s Religions (undergraduate course), School of Art History, Classics & Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

2013-2016. Graduate Teaching Assistant. Evolution, Behaviour, and Cognition (undergraduate course), School of Psychology, University of Auckland, New Zealand.


Editorial, Research & Leadership Experience

2013-Present
Managed, oversaw and designed Pulotu, the database of Austronesian religion and culture.

2016-2017
Regional Editor for The Database of Religious History.

2015
Fieldwork, Tanna Island, Vanuatu (26th June till the 24th July).

2013
Fieldwork, Tanna Island, Vanuatu (11th March till the 14th April).


Selected Media Coverage

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

Nature. How human sacrifice propped up the social order. By Philip Ball. Re-posted in Scientific American.

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.

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

International Business Times. Belief in supernatural punishment not ‘big gods’ gave rise to complex societies. By Hannah Osborne.

Additional media coverage here.