Harvey Whitehouse

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Harvey Whitehouse
Born 1964
London, UK
Nationality British
Fields Anthropology, History, Archaeology, Cognitive Science, Evolutionary Theory, Evolutionary Psychology, Social Psychology
Institutions London School of Economics, University of Cambridge, Queen’s University Belfast, University of Oxford

Harvey Whitehouse is Chair of Social Anthropology and Professorial Fellow of Magdalen College at the University of Oxford.

Education and early career[edit]

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.

Whitehouse is generally regarded as one of the founders of the Cognitive Science of Religion field. After carrying out two years of field research on a 'cargo cult' in New Britain, Papua New Guinea, in the late 1980s, 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 theory of modes of religiosity seeks to explain the role of ritual in processes of group bonding and in the evolution of social complexity. Two modes are distinguished: imagistic and doctrinal. In the imagistic mode, collective rituals are infrequent and highly emotional, giving rise to tightknit local groups. In the doctrinal mode, rituals are frequent and relatively tame, producing indefinitely expandable communities with standardized beliefs and practices.

Whitehouse’s published corpus includes a trilogy of authored books outlining his theory of Modes of Religiosity.[1] This has prompted a substantial critical literature, including 3 international conferences[2] and 8 edited volumes.[3]

Later research and career[edit]

Since the turn of the millennium, Whitehouse has focused increasingly on developing trans-disciplinary collaborations using methods as diverse as ethnographic fieldwork, experiments, interviews, and surveys in lab, field, and online settings, database construction, semantic network analysis, brain imaging, and agent based modeling. In the process, Whitehouse’s research programme has gradually expanded beyond religion to examine the role of rituals of all kinds in binding groups together and motivating inter-group competition, including warfare. Together with John Alderdice, Scott Atran, and Richard Davis, Whitehouse is a founding fellow of Oxford’s Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict at Harris Manchester College. He is also a founding editor of Seshat: Global History Databank, together with Peter Turchin and Pieter Francois. Whitehouse’s other long-term collaborators include Quentin Atkinson, Amy Bogaard, Michael Buhrmester, Thomas Currie, Michael Hochberg, Ian Hodder, Jonathan Jong, Jonathan Lanman, Cristine Legare, Ryan McKay, William B. Swann, and David Sloan Wilson.

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 established 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.

Selected publications[edit]

  • McKay, Ryan; Whitehouse, Harvey (2014). "Religion and Morality". Psychological Bulletin. 141 (2): 447–73. doi:10.1037/a0038455. 
  • Watson-Jones, Rachel; Legare, Cristine H.; Whitehouse, Harvey; Clegg, Jennifer (2014). "Task-specific effects of ostracism on imitation of social convention in early childhood". Evolution and Human Behavior. 35 (3): 204–210. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2014.01.004. 
  • Whitehouse, Harvey; Lanman, Jonathan A. (2014). "The Ties that Bind Us: Ritual, fusion, and identification". Current Anthropology. 
  • Whitehouse, Harvey; McQuinn, Brian; Buhrmester, Michael; Swann, William B. (2014). "Brothers in Arms: Warriors bond like Family". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 111 (50): 17783–17785. doi:10.1073/pnas.1416284111. 
  • Jong, Jonathan; Whitehouse, Harvey; Kavanagh, Christopher; Lane, Justin (2015). "Shared Negative Experiences Lead to Identity Fusion via Personal Reflection". PLoS ONE. 10: e0145611. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0145611. 
  • Legare, Cristine H.; Wen, Nicole J.; Herrmann, Patricia A.; Whitehouse, Harvey (2015). "Imitative flexibility and the development of cultural learning". Cognition. 142: 351–361. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2015.05.020. 
  • Salali; Deniz, Gul; Whitehouse, Harvey; Hochberg, Michael E. (2015). "A Life-Cycle Model of Human Social Groups Produces a U-Shaped Distribution in Group Size". PLoS ONE. 10 (9): e0138496. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0138496. 
  • Turchin, Peter; Brennan, Rob; Currie, Thomas E.; Feeney, Kevin C.; François, Pieter; Hoyer, Daniel; Manning, J. G.; Marciniak, Arkadiusz; Mullins, Daniel; Palmisano, Alessio; Peregrine, Peter; Turner, Edward A. L.; Whitehouse, Harvey (2015). "Seshat: The Global History Databank". Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution. 6 (1): 77–107. 
  • Watson-Jones, Rachel E.; Whitehouse, Harvey; Legare, Cristine H. (2015). "In-group ostracism increases high fidelity imitation in early childhood". Psychological Science. 27: 34–42. doi:10.1177/0956797615607205. 
  • Whitehouse, Harvey; François, Pieter; Turchin, Peter (2015). "The Role of Ritual in the Evolution of Social Complexity: Five predictions and a drum roll". Cliodynamics. 
  • Wilson; Sloan, David; Hartberg, Yasha; MacDonald, Ian; Lanman, Jonathan A.; Whitehouse, Harvey (2015). "The Nature of Religious Diversity: A Cultural Ecosystem Approach". Religion, Brain, and Behavior. 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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
  2. ^ Cambridge University (2001), University of Vermont (2002), and Emory University (2003)
  3. ^ 2009 Panayotis Pachis and Luther H. Martin (eds.) Imagistic Traditions in the Graeco-Roman World, Thessaloniki: Vanias; 2004 Harvey Whitehouse and James Laidlaw (eds.) Ritual and Memory: Towards a Comparative Anthropology of Religion, Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press; Harvey Whitehouse and Luther H. Martin (eds.) Theorizing Religions Past: Archaeology, History, and Cognition, Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press; 2004 Harvey Whitehouse and Luther H. Martin (eds.) Implications of Cognitive Science for the Study of Religion, Special Issue of Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, Vol.16, No.3; 2005 Harvey Whitehouse and Robert N. McCauley (eds.) The Psychological and Cognitive Foundations of Religiosity, Special Issue of Journal of Cognition and Culture, Vol.5 Nos.1-2; 2005 Harvey Whitehouse and Robert N. McCauley (eds.) Mind and Religion: Psychological and Cognitive Foundations of Religiosity, Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press; 2005 Harvey Whitehouse and Luther H. Martin (eds.) History, Memory, and Cognition, Special Issue of Historical Reflections/ Reflexions Historiques, Vol.31, No.2; 2007 Harvey Whitehouse and James Laidlaw (eds.) 2007 Religion, Anthropology and Cognitive Science, Durham: Carolina Academic Press.

External links[edit]