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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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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“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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