Professor Harvey Whitehouse

Harvey Whitehouse

Chair of Social Anthropology

Director of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology (ICEA) and the Centre for Anthropology and Mind (CAM)

Fellow of Magdalen College

The evolution of social complexity, the cognitive science of religion, experimental anthropology.

Harvey Whitehouse is Chair of Social Anthropology, Director of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, and a Professorial Fellow of Magdalen College at the University of Oxford. Harvey is one of the founders of the cognitive science of religion field. He is especially well known for his theory of “modes of religiosity” that has been the subject of extensive critical evaluation and testing by anthropologists, historians, archaeologists, cognitive scientists, and evolutionary theorists. The modes theory proposes that the frequency and emotionality of rituals determines the scale and structure of religious organizations: low-frequency, highly arousing rituals bind together small but very cohesive groups of participants; high-frequency, less emotionally intense rituals create large anonymous communities that are more diffusely integrated. In recent years, Harvey’s work has expanded beyond religion to examine the role of rituals of all kinds in binding groups together and motivating inter-group competition, including warfare. This research has become increasingly global in reach with ongoing data collection now established at field sites in Singapore, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Vanuatu, Brazil, the U.S., Spain, Croatia, the U.K., Mauritius, and Libya. Harvey is also a founding editor, and the editor for ritual variables, of SESHAT: The Global History Databank.


Telephone: +44 (0)1865 274705
Personal website:

Harvey’s doctoral students and postdocs have successfully completed projects using methods as diverse as ethnographic fieldwork, carefully controlled experiments in both lab and field, field surveys, online surveys, database construction and analysis, semantic network analysis, brain imaging, and agent based modeling. Many now have permanent academic positions (e.g. at the University of Oxford, Royal Holloway University of London, Brunel University, Bath Spa University, Queen’s University Belfast, Auckland University, Aarhus University, the Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris) while others have tenure-track positions at a broad range of universities across North America and postdoc positions around the world. Harvey is always keen to hear from prospective research students interested in working on topics relevant to his current projects.

In addition to his research endeavours, Harvey has been heavily involved in the creation of new academic programmes. He was founding director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen’s University Belfast and of Oxford’s Centre for Anthropology and Mind. From 2006 to 2009, he served as head of Oxford’s School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, establishing the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology in 2007. During this period, he also led efforts to create the Calleva Research Centre for Evolution and Human Sciences at Magdalen College and in 2014 he co-founded the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflicts at Harris Manchester College.

1995 Inside the Cult: religious innovation and transmission in Papua New Guinea, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 234pp, ISBN 0-19-827981-7 (cloth), 0-19-828051-3 (paper)

2000 Arguments and Icons: divergent modes of religiosity, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 204pp, ISBN 0-19-823414-7 (cloth), 0-19-823415-5 (paper)

2001 (ed.) The Debated Mind: evolutionary psychology versus ethnography, Oxford:Berg, 229pp, ISBN 0-85-973427-8 (cloth), 0-85-973432-4 (paper)

2004 Modes of Religiosity: a cognitive theory of religious transmission, Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 208pp, ISBN 0-7591-0614-2 (cloth), 0-7591-0615-0 (paper)

2004 with Laidlaw, James (eds.) Ritual and Memory: Towards a Comparative Anthropology of Religion, Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 224pp, ISBN 0-7591-0616-9 (cloth), 0-7591-0617-7 (paper)

2004 with Martin, Luther H. (eds.) Theorizing Religions Past: Archaeology, History, and Cognition, Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 256pp, ISBN 0-7591-0620-7 (cloth), 0-7591-0621-5 (paper)

2004 with Martin, Luther H.  (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, ISSN 0943-3058 (print), 1570-0682 (online)

2005 with McCauley, Robert N. (eds.) The Psychological and Cognitive Foundations of Religiosity, special issue of Journal of Cognition and Culture, Vol.5 Nos.1-2, ISSN 1567-7095 (print), 1568-5373 (online)

2005 with McCauley, Robert N. (eds.) Mind and Religion: Psychological and Cognitive Foundations of Religiosity, Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 248pp, ISBN 0-7591-0618-5 (cloth), 0-7591-0619-3 (paper)

2005 with Martin, Luther H. (eds.) History, Memory, and Cognition, special issue of Historical Reflections/ Reflexions Historiques, Vol.31, No.2, ISSN 0315-7997

2007 with Laidlaw, James (eds.) Religion, Anthropology and Cognitive Science, Durham: Carolina Academic Press, ISBN 1-59460-107-0

  • A Macroscope for Global History - Seshat Global History Databank: a methodological overview

  • Grand Challenges for the Study of Cultural Evolution

  • Ritual and social evolution: Understanding social complexity through data

  • Ritual and Social Evolution: Understanding social complexity through data

  • Ritual, Emotion, and Power

  • The evolution of extreme cooperation via shared dysphoric experiences.

  • Sharing genes fosters identity fusion and altruism

  • Rituals Improve Children's Ability to Delay Gratification.

  • Collective synchrony increases prosociality towards non-performers and outgroup members.

  • The Dynamic Identity Fusion Index: A New Continuous Measure of Identity Fusion for Web-Based Questionnaires

  • More
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