Professor Harvey WhitehouseBack to People

Subjects: Archaeology and Anthropology
Department: Anthropology
Academic position: Professorial Fellow


Professor Whitehouse received his BA from London University (LSE) and his PhD from Cambridge University (King’s College), before taking up a Research Fellowship at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. From there he went to Queen’s University Belfast where he became founding director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture. He came to Oxford in 2006 to take up a newly created Chair in the School of Anthropology.

Research Interests

Harvey Whitehouse is currently the recipient of an ERC Advanced Grant to test and develop his theory of modes of religiosity. 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 Whitehouse’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 data collection currently ongoing in Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia, Vanuatu, Brazil, USA, Spain, Cameroon, and Libya. Whitehouse is also a founding director of Seshat: Global History Databank, which contains a huge volume of data on historical societies going back 10,000 years and is being used to test various hypotheses concerning the role of rituals in the evolution of social complexity.

Selected Publications


For a full list of publications (and downloadable versions) see my website.

1. Modes of Religiosity

Whitehouse, Harvey (2021). The Ritual Animal: Imitation and cohesion in the evolution of social complexity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Whitehouse, Harvey and Jonathan A. Lanman (2014). The Ties that Bind Us: Ritual, fusion, and identification. Current Anthropology, Vol. 55, No.6: pp 674 – 695.

Whitehouse, Harvey (2004). Modes of Religiosity: a cognitive theory of religious transmission, Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

Whitehouse, Harvey (2000). Arguments and Icons: divergent modes of religiosity, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Whitehouse, Harvey (1995). Inside the Cult: religious innovation and transmission in Papua New Guinea, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

2. Imagistic pathways to identity fusion

Whitehouse, Harvey & Fitzgerald, Robin (2020). Fusion and Reform: The Potential for Identity Fusion to Reduce Recidivism and Improve Reintegration. Anthropology in Action. 27 (1): 1–13 doi:10.3167/aia.2020.270101

Kavanagh Christopher, Rohan Kapitány, Idhamsyah Eka Putra, & Harvey Whitehouse (2020) Exploring the Pathways Between Transformative Group Experiences and Identity Fusion. Front. Psychol. 11:1172. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01172

Buhrmester, Michael, Dawn Burnham, Dominic Johnson, Oliver S. Curry, David Macdonald, & Harvey Whitehouse (2018). How moments become movements: Shared outrage, group cohesion, and the lion that went viral. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. Vol.6. DOI=10.3389/fevo.2018.00054

Jong, Jonathan, Harvey Whitehouse, Christopher Kavanagh, Justin Lane (2015). Shared Negative Experiences Lead to Identity Fusion via Personal Reflection. PloS ONE. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0145611

3. Ingroup causes of intergroup conflict

Buhrmester, M., D. Zeitlyn, & Whitehouse, H. (2020). Ritual, fusion, and conflict: The roots of agro-pastoral violence in rural Cameroon. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. DOI: 10.1177/1368430220959705.

Harvey Whitehouse (2018). Dying for the group: Towards a general theory of extreme self-sacrifice. [Target article] Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 41, e192:1-62. doi:10.1017/S0140525X18000249

Newson, Martha, Tiago Soaries Bortolini, Ricardo da Silva, Michael Buhrmester, and Harvey
Whitehouse (2018). Brazil’s Football Warriors: Social bonding and inter-group violence.
Evolution and Human Behaviour. doi.org/10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2018.06.010

Whitehouse, Harvey, Brian McQuinn, Michael Buhrmester, and William B. Swann (2014). Brothers in Arms: Libyan revolutionaries bond like Family. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Vol 111, No. 50: pp 17783-17785. Early Edition www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1416284111.

4. The ritual stance in child development

Rybanska, Veronika, Ryan McKay, Jonathan Jong, and Harvey Whitehouse (In Press). Rituals improve children’s ability to delay gratification. Child Development.

Watson-Jones, Rachel E., Harvey Whitehouse, and Cristine H. Legare (2015). In-group ostracism increases high fidelity imitation in early childhood. Psychological Science. DOI: 10.1177/0956797615607205

Legare, Cristine H., Nicole J. Wen, Patricia A. Herrmann, and Harvey Whitehouse (2015). Imitative flexibility and the development of cultural learning. Cognition. Vol 142: pp. 351-361. DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2015.05.020

Watson-Jones, Rachel, Cristine H. Legare, Harvey Whitehouse and Jennifer Clegg (2014). Task-specific effects of ostracism on imitation of social convention in early childhood. Evolution and Human Behavior, Vol. 35, No. 3: pp 204 – 210.

Herrmann, Patricia A., Cristine H. Legare, Paul L. Harris & Harvey Whitehouse (2013). Stick to the script: The effect of witnessing multiple actors on children’s imitation. Cognition, Vol. 129: pp 536-543.

Whitehouse, Harvey (2011). The Coexistence Problem in Psychology, Anthropology, and Evolutionary Theory. Human Development, Vol 54: pp 191-199.

5. The evolution of social complexity

Harvey Whitehouse, Pieter François, Enrico Cioni, et al. (2019). Conclusion: Was There Ever an Axial Age? In Daniel Hoyer & Jenny Reddish eds. The Seshat History of the Axial Age. Chaplin, CT: Beresta Books.

Peter Turchin, Thomas E. Currie, Harvey Whitehouse, et al. (2018). Quantitative Historical Analysis Uncovers a Single Dimension of Complexity that Structures Global Variation in Human Social Organization. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). 115(2) E144-E151.

Gantley, Michael, Harvey Whitehouse and Amy Bogaard (2018). Material Correlates Analysis (MCA): An Innovative way of Examining Questions in Archaeology Using Ethnographic Data. Advances in Archaeological Practice. 6(4): 328-341. DOI:1.1017/11p.2018.9

Mullins, Dan, Harvey Whitehouse and Quentin Atkinson (2013). The role of writing and recordkeeping in the cultural evolution of human cooperation. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization. Vol. 90, Supplement, June 2013: pp S141 – S151

Whitehouse, Harvey Camilla Mazzucato, Ian Hodder and Quentin D. Atkinson (2013). Modes of religiosity and the evolution of social complexity at Çatalhöyük. In Ian Hodder (ed.) Religion at Work in a Neolithic Society: Vital Matters. Cambridge: CUP.

6. Morality, religion, and cooperation

Curry, Oliver S., Daniel A. Mullins, & Harvey Whitehouse (2019). Is it good to cooperate? Testing the theory of morality-as-cooperation in 60 societies. Current Anthropology. Vol. 60, No.1. DOI: 10.1086/701478

Curry, O. S., Darragh Hare, Cameron Hepburn, Dominic D.P. Johnson, Michael Buhrmester, Harvey Whitehouse, and David W. Macdonald (2019). Cooperative Conservation: Seven Ways to Save the World. Conservation Science and Practice. Doi.org/10.1111/csp2.123

Macdonald, David W., Dominic D.P. Johnson, and Harvey Whitehouse (2019). Towards a More Natural Governance of Earth’s Biodiversity and Resources. Conservation and Society. 17 (1): 108-113.

McKay, Ryan and Harvey Whitehouse (2014). Religion and Morality. Psychological Bulletin. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0038455 Printed 2015, 141(2): 447-73.