The Protestant Reformation explained by the hunter-gatherer hypothesis

I recently came across this question on Quora: Why did the Protestant Reformation only take place in the northern half of Europe? This is a very interesting question indeed. Why did Protestantism spread northwards so quickly and didn’t make any inroads in the south at all?

My hypothesis: because there are more evolutionary “farmer types” in Southern Europe. These types usually adhere to tradition and hierarchy. Northern Europe had many more hunter-gatherer types. If you have a look at a genetic map of Europe you will find that reformist movements were typically strong in places with a lot of hunter-gatherer heritage (minus the Christian Orthodox countries).

Early Christianity was very popular among poor people in the Roman empire most of all, because it was an egalitarian religion and didn’t consider poverty as something like “lower class”; on the contrary, it de-emphasized material success and possession and emphasized social relationships. Christianity didn’t make poor people materially richer or elevated their status, but that message was that neither is really essential for having a good life.

Many of the poor were likely egalitarian hunter-gatherer types, like Jesus himself and really resonated with his message. For a lot of these people, poverty was even a virtue (vs a sign of laziness for farmer types). In later Roman times and the Middle-Ages Christianity became increasingly “farmerized”, i.e. hierarchical, materialistic and nepotistic. Martin Luther, another hunter-gatherer type criticized this farmerization of the religion and demanded a return to the original religion as presented in the New Testament. The whole reformation movement can be understood as a return to the original egalitarian roots of Christianity.

Let’s take a look at what Luther (and other reformists) criticized the Catholic church for:

  • the sale of indulgences (materialism, corruption)
  • Papal authority (hierarchy, abuse of power)
  • enriching the church rather than redistributing wealth to the needy (lack of sharing and caring)

These are typical kinds of beef that hunter-gatherer types have with authority.

Wikipedia lists primogeniture and cult of Saints as two of the main reasons for places where Protestantism didn’t take hold, both of them strong signs of farmer dominance. That is why Portugal, Spain and (Central-Southern) Italy never really saw major rises of Protestantist movements. French Protestantism somewhat surprisingly didn’t have its origin in the north, but somewhat unexpectedly in the south-west. I haven’t been able to find data on that area, but it isn’t unlikely that there is a strong hunter-gatherer element due to the presence of the Basque population, which does have a really high percentage of hunter-gatherer genes.

Here is my model of evolutionary types:

Myers-Briggs types are given in parenthesis. As you can see protestant reformers belong to the N/hunter-gatherer types.

Read more about evolutionary types in my ebook:

The Greatest Story Ever Told : How we became different and neurodiverse — Kindle edition by Hofer, Andreas. Health, Fitness & Dieting Kindle eBooks @

Originally published at on February 7, 2021.

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