Date of Award

Spring 2019

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Religion, PhD


School of Arts and Humanities

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Tammi J. Schneider

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Jenny Rose

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Cynthia Eller

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2019 Edward N Surman


Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Monotheism, Environment, Religion, Pastoralism

Subject Categories

Biblical Studies | Comparative Methodologies and Theories | History of Religions of Western Origin


How do environments affect the generation and development of religions? The investigation taken up in this dissertation is one attempt to address this question. This work focuses on one comparative case study: the potential causal relationship between agriculturally marginal landscapes and the two oldest religions deemed monotheistic. This dissertation argues that the respective origins (and early development) of communities of worship centered around Ahura Mazda and YHWH were affected by similar environmental contexts. The dearth of literature concerning the effects of environments on religions extends to established theoretical and methodological approaches on the topic. The framework for approaching this research is based on Frachetti’s Non-Uniform Complexity Theory and Taves’ Building Block Approach to Religious Studies. Rather than discussing monotheistic religions, this examination considers the category into which fall the respective worship of YHWH and Ahura Mazda as religions deemed monotheistic. This category appears to be defined by a set of certain building blocks that serve as referents for usage of the term monotheism. This dissertation shows that the presence or absence of certain building blocks in this set can be traced to the mobile pastoralist social and agriculturally marginal environmental contexts in which the communities of worship centered around YHWH and Ahura Mazda appear to have originated. Among the building blocks present in these religions are: emphatic concepts of Truth; perceptions of incompatibility with other religions; perspectives that separate social or ethnic identities from religious identities; narratives of prophet-founders; texts deemed religious; a focus on supernatural agent/s that exist beyond the material world. This dissertation also examines the absence of buildings deemed religious and art deemed religious originating with these religions: that these building blocks appear to have been adopted or developed eventually suggests adaptive change in these communities for the sake of survival. Indicative of the biological and cultural evolutionary fitness of these components is the survival of some key building blocks that define each of these religions across time and space. The geographic and social mobility, characteristic of these communities of worship, that have contributed to survival into the modern period ultimately appear to be connected to the parallel environmental contexts in which they developed. This research has implications for the impact of natural and built environments on the generation and development of cultural systems in the modern world. In the face of climate change, the strategic value of innovation and adaptation to the survival of human beings cannot be ignored.


A digital version of this dissertation can be found at: