Books in Print

The Mind Possessed

The Cognition of Spirit Possession in an Afro-Brazilian Religious Tradition

The cognitive science of religion has made a persuasive case for the view that a number of different psychological systems are involved in the construction and transmission of notions of extranatural agency such as deities and spirits. Until now this work has been based largely on findings in experimental psychology, illustrated mainly with hypothetical or anecdotal examples. In The Mind Possessed, Emma Cohen considers how the psychological systems undergirding spirit concepts are activated in real-world settings.

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Mind and Religion

Recent cognitive approaches to the study of religion have yielded much understanding by focusing on common psychological processes that all humans share. One leading theory, Harvey Whitehouse's modes of religiosity theory, demonstrates how two distinct modes of organizing and transmitting religious traditions emerge from different ways of activating universal memory systems. In Mind and Religion, top scholars from biology to religious studies question, test, evaluate and challenge Whitehouse's sweeping thesis. The result is an up-to-date snapshot of the cognitive science of religion field for classes in psychology, anthropology, or history of religion.

For more information visit AltaMira Press

Modes of Religiosity


By Harvey Whitehouse

Religions - whatever else they may be - are configurations of cultural information reproduced across space and time. Beginning with this seemingly obvious fact of religious transmission, Harvey Whitehouse goes on to construct a testable theory of how religions are created, passed on, and changed. At the center of his theory are two divergent 'modes of religiosity:' the imagistic and the doctrinal. Drawing from recent advances in cognitive science, Whitehouse's theory shows how religions tend to coalesce around one of these two poles depending on how religious behaviors are remembered. In the 'imagistic mode,' rituals have a lasting impact on people's minds, haunting not only our memories but influencing the way we ruminate on religious topics. These psychological features are linked to the scale and structure of religious communities, fostering small, exclusive, and ideologically heterogeneous ritual groupings or factions. In the 'doctrinal mode', on the other hand, religious knowledge is primarily spread through intensive and repetitive teaching; religious communities are contrastingly large, inclusive, and centrally regulated. While these tendencies have long been recognized in the history of the study of religion, the modes of religiosity theory is unique in that it explains why these tendencies exist. More importantly, Whitehouse does not give the final word, but invites us to join a series of collaborative networks among anthropologists, historians, archaeologists, and psychologists, currently trying to falsify, confirm, or refine the theory. Are you tired of the flood of descriptions and interpretations of religions which offer no clear strategy for evaluation, comparison, and testing? Modes of Religiosity can provide you with a new way to think when you think about religion.

"For the specialist in religious studies as well as the scholar willing to venture into a different aspect of this discipline, there is no doubt on the part of this reviewer that careful attention to Whitehouse' text, theory and arguments will pay large dividends."

"An important book on ritual theory."
International Review of Biblical Studies

E.O. Springsted, General Theological Seminary, Choice

"Harvey Whitehouse's Modes of Religiosity is very serious, part of a new movement that challenges everything that is usually written about religiosity."
Mary Douglas, University College, London

"In his ambitious new book, Harvey Whitehouse develops his influential 'modes of religiosity' theory, robustly defends it against his critics and bravely provides predictions to be tested against the world's religions, past and present. It is a huge step forward in our understanding of religion—the most curious, creative, and at times deeply destructive, force that resides within the human mind."
Steven Mithen, University of Reading

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Arguments and Icons

Through a close examination of four Melanesian religious traditions, Whitehouse identifies a set of recurrent interconnections between styles of religious transmission, systems of memory, and patterns of political association. He argues that these interconnections may shed light on a variety of general problems in history, archaeology, and social theory.

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Psychology of Religion


Edited by Justin Barrett (Senior Researcher in CAM 2006 - 2011)

Psychology of religion is essentially as old as psychology itself, with over a hundred years of history and claiming some of psychology’s most notable characters as contributors, including William James, Sigmund Freud, Gordon Allport, and Jean Piaget. In recent years, this subfield of psychology has risen in prominence. Sectarian violence, secularization, the ‘culture wars’, and increase in cross-cultural and cross-religious contact through migration, urbanization, and globalization have all contributed to heightened interest in questions such as: where do religious beliefs come from? Why do they seem to motivate behaviour so powerfully? Is religious belief and practice good or bad for us? Does religious belief assist or hinder morality?

Increasingly discussed by journalists and science-popularisers such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, A.C. Grayling, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Lewis Wolpert, these sorts of questions are psychological questions with psychological answers emerging through the work of psychologists of religion.

Social and cultural factors have provided some motivation for renewed interest in psychology of religion, and additional impetus has been provided by new advances in psychological subfields, particularly cognitive, developmental, and evolutionary psychology. These three areas, previously only marginal contributors to psychology of religion, have begun making more substantial contributions concerning how and why human minds come to represent certain religious ideas and beliefs.

Not surprisingly, psychology of religion is becoming a more prominent focus of psychological research and teaching.

This collection presents the most up-to-date and comprehensive presentation of the psychology of religion available. The first volume focuses on psychological explanations of religion (that is, religion as something to be explained), the second concerning religious psychology, the third representing the impact of religion on thought, feelings, and behaviour, and the final volume considering implications of religious perspectives and findings for the practice of psychology, both scientific and applied. Historical and contemporary perspectives are integrated into thematically arranged sections. An extended introduction surveying the field begins the collection and an index increases the collection’s utility as a reference resource.

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Born Believers

“In an age of atheism, this book will challenge widespread assumptions that nonbelief is the default and that children must be indoctrinated to believe,” commented Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California and past-president of the American Psychological Association’s Division of the Psychology of Religion. “Born Believers should be required reading for all parents and for anyone else interested in the spiritual lives of children.”

Barrett presents a masterful discussion of whether children are born with a natural ability to exercise faith in God, and includes a systematization of the phenomena accompanying the belief process and an overview of recent research and scholarly discussions on the subject of children and belief. He brings together the commonalities among Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other believing communities in ways that support the idea that religious belief is, in fact, “a fundamental and healthy part of human existence, springing from cognitive systems that if removed would remove our humanity.”

In their review of Born Believers, Publishers Weekly remarked, “Barrett’s analysis represents a major addition to the literature discussing the natural bent toward belief, and should be widely read.”

(Senior Researcher in CAM 2006 - 2011)

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Religion, Anthropology and Cognitive Science

This book examines longstanding debates in the anthropology of religion concerning the connections between ritual and meaning, belief, politics, emotion, development, and gender. But it examines these ‘old’ topics from a radically new perspective: that of the cognitive science of religion.

For more information visit Carolina Academic Press

Ritual and Memory

Ethnographers of religion have created a vast record of religious behavior from small-scale non-literate societies to globally distributed religions in urban settings. So a theory that claims to explain prominent features of ritual, myth, and belief in all contexts everywhere causes ethnographers a skeptical pause. In Ritual and Memory, however, a wide range of ethnographers grapple critically with Harvey Whitehouse's theory of two divergent modes of religiosity. Although these contributors differ in their methods, their areas of fieldwork, and their predisposition towards Whitehouse's cognitively-based approach, they all help evaluate and refine Whitehouse's theory and so contribute to a new comparative approach in the anthropology of religion

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Theorising Religions Past


Historians bound by their singular stories and archaeologists bound by their material evidence don't typically seek out broad comparative theories of religion. But recently Harvey Whitehouse's  modes of religiosity  theory has been attracting many scholars of past religions. Based upon universal features of human cognition, Whitehouse's theory can provide useful comparisons across cultures and historical periods even when limited cultural data is present. In this groundbreaking volume scholars of cultures from prehistorical hunter-gatherers to 19th century Scandinavian Lutherans evaluate Whitehouse's hypothesis that all religions tend toward either an imagistic or a doctrinal mode depending on how they are remembered and transmitted. Theorizing Religions Past provides valuable insights for all historians of religion and especially for those interested in a new cognitive method for studying the past.

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Inside the Cult


For the past thirty years, adherents of a millenarian cult in Papua New Guinea, known as the Pomio Kivung, have been awaiting the establishment of a period of supernatural bliss, heralded by the return of their ancestors bearing "cargo." The author of this book, Harvey Whitehouse, was taken for a reincarnated ancestor, and was able to observe the dynamics of the cult from within. From the stable mainstream of the cult, localized splinter groups periodically emerge, hoping to expedite the millennium; the core of this volume concerns the close study of one such group in two Baining villages.

The two aspects of the cult studied here--on the one hand a large, uniform, and stable mainstream organization with a well-defined hierarchy demanding orthodoxy of views, and on the other hand a small-scale and temporary movement, emotional and innovatieve in its views--stand in sharp contrast one to the other, but are here seen as divergent manifestations of the same relifious ideology, implemented in differeing ways. This original theory of "modes of religiosity" which Whitehouse develops draws on recent findings in cognitive psychology to link styles of codification and cultural transmission to the political scale, structure, and ethos.

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Supernatural Agents

The cognitive science of religion is a rapidly growing field whose practitioners apply insights from advances in cognitive science in order to provide a better understanding of religious impulses, beliefs, and behaviors. In this book Ilkka Pyysiainen shows how this methodology can profitably be used in the comparative study of beliefs about superhuman agents. He begins by developing a theoretical outline of the basic, modular architecture of the human mind and especially the human capacity to understand agency. He then goes on to discuss examples of supernatural agency in detail, arguing that the human ability to attribute beliefs and desires to others forms the basis of conceptions of supernatural agents and of such social cognition in which supernatural agents are postulated as interested parties in social life. Beliefs about supernatural agency are natural, says Pyysiainen, in the sense that such concepts are used in an intuitive and automatic fashion. Two dots and a straight line below them automatically trigger the idea of a face, for example. Given that the mind consists of a host of such modular mechanisms, certain kinds of beliefs will always have a selective advantage over others. Abstract theological concepts are usually elaborate versions of such simpler and more contagious folk conceptions. Pyysiainen uses ethnographical and survey materials as well as doctrinal treatises to show that there are certain recurrent patterns in beliefs about supernatural agents both at the level of folk-religion and of formal theology.

(Written with the support of a Visiting Fellowship at CAM funded by the JTF)


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Why Would Anyone Believe in God?


Why Would Anyone Believe in God? by Justin Barrett. Because of the design of our minds. That is Justin Barrett's simple answer to the question of his title. ...

(Senior Researcher in CAM 2006 - 2011)

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The Prehistory of Music: Human Evolution, Archaeology, and the Origins of Musicality

By Iain Morley

Music is possessed by all human cultures, and archaeological evidence for musical activities pre-dates even the earliest-known cave art. Music has been the subject of keen investigation across a great diversity of fields, from neuroscience and psychology to ethnography, archaeology, and its own dedicated field, musicology. Despite the great contributions that these studies have made towards understanding musical behaviours, much remains mysterious about this ubiquitous human phenomenon - not least, its origins.

In a ground-breaking study, this volume brings together evidence from these fields, and more, in investigating the evolutionary origins of our musical abilities, the nature of music, and the earliest archaeological evidence for musical activities amongst our ancestors. Seeking to understand the true relationship between our unique musical capabilities and the development of the remarkable social, emotional, and communicative abilities of our species, it will be essential reading for anyone interested in music and human physical and cultural evolution.

For more information visit OUP.

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