|Fields||Anthropology, History, Archaeology, Cognitive Science, Evolutionary Theory|
|Institutions||London School of Economics, University of Cambridge, Queen’s University Belfast, University of Oxford|
Harvey Whitehouse is an anthropologist and a leading figure in the cognitive science of religion. Professor Whitehouse holds a Statutory Chair in Social Anthropology at the University of Oxford and is a Professorial Fellow of Magdalen College. He is also the Director of the Centre for Anthropology and Mind at the University of Oxford.
Education and early career
Whitehouse received his B.A. Degree in Social Anthropology from the London School of Economics in 1985. He completed his PhD in Anthropology at the University of Cambridge in 1990 under the supervision of Ernest Gellner and Gilbert Lewis.
After carrying out two years of field research on a 'cargo cult' in New Britain, Papua New Guinea, throughout the 1990s, he developed a theory of ‘modes of religiosity’ that has been the subject of extensive critical evaluation and testing by anthropologists, historians, archaeologists, and cognitive scientists.
The modes of religiosity theory seeks to explain the role of ritual in group formation and social and cultural evolution. Two modes are distinguished: imagistic and doctrinal. In the imagistic mode, important rituals are infrequent, highly emotionally arousing, and tend to generate tight knit local groups with low levels of orthodoxy and dynamic leadership. In the doctrinal mode, rituals are frequent, relatively tame, and produce larger, anonymous but expandable communities with higher levels of orthodoxy and dynamic leadership.
Later research and career
Whitehouse has published numerous books and articles including a trilogy of authored books outlining his theory of Modes of Religiosity. This has prompted substantial critical literature, including 3 international conferences. Efforts to test the predictions of the modes theory have used case studies (ethnographic, historical, and archaeological), cross-cultural survey, controlled experiment, and computational modelling. Whitehouse’s most longstanding cross-disciplinary collaborators include anthropologist James Laidlaw (Cambridge), historian Luther H. Martin (Vermont), philosopher Robert N. McCauley (Emory), archaeologist Ian Hodder (Stanford), biologist David Sloan Wilson (Binghamton), psychologists Cristine Legare (University of Texas at Austin) and Ryan McKay (Royal Holloway), modellers Michael Hochberg (Montpellier) and Quentin Atkinson (Auckland).
Whitehouse was founding director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture (Queen’s University Belfast) and the Centre for Anthropology and Mind (University of Oxford). While Head of the School of Anthropology at the University of Oxford (2006-2009) he was integral in establishing the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology. Whitehouse has been principal investigator on several large collaborative initiatives including: the Explaining Religion project, funded by the European Commission and the Ritual, Community and Conflict project funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council.
- Arguments and Icons: divergent modes of religiosity (2000)
- The Debated Mind: evolutionary psychology versus ethnography (2001) (ed.)
- Ritual and Memory: towards a comparative anthropology of religion (2004) with Laidlaw, J. (eds.)
- Implications of Cognitive Science for the Study of Religion (2004) with Martin, L. H. (eds.) Vol.16, No.3
- Theorizing Religions Past: archaeology, history, and cognition (2004) with Martin, Luther H. (eds.)
- Modes of Religiosity (2004). Translated into Greek by Dimitris Xygalatas as Τύποι Θρησκευτικότητας, Thessaloniki: Vanias 2006.
- The Psychological and Cognitive Foundations of Religiosity (2005) with McCauley, R. N. (eds.) Vol.5 Nos.1-2
- History, Memory, and Cognition (2005) with Martin, L. H., Vol.31, No.2
- Mind and Religion: psychological and cognitive foundations of religiosity (2005) with McCauley, R. N. (eds.)
- Religion, Anthropology and Cognitive Science (2007) with Laidlaw, J. (eds.)
Honorary Chair, Anthropology, Queen’s University Belfast
- Cognitive science of religion
- Social Anthropology
- Evolutionary Psychology
- Evolutionary psychology of religion
- Evolutionary origin of religions
- Cognitive science
- Cultural transmission
- Religion and ritual
- Papua New Guinea
- 1995 Inside the Cult: Religious innovation and transmission in Papua New Guinea, Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2000 Arguments and Icons: Divergent modes of religiosity, Oxford: Oxford University; Modes of Religiosity: A cognitive theory of religious transmission, Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press
- Cambridge University (2001), University of Vermont (2002), and Emory University (2003)