Harvey Whitehouse


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, Cameroon, the U.K., Turkey, and Libya. Harvey is also a founding editor, and the editor for ritual variables, of Seshat: Global History Databank.

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.

Recent Posts

October 19, 2016 in Focus Articles

Developing the Field Site Concept for the Study of Cultural Evolution: Two Essays by David Sloan Wilson and Harvey Whitehouse

The Social Evolution Forum is pleased to feature two essays on field research by evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson and social anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse in hope of catalyzing the formation…
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October 19, 2016 in Uncategorised

Developing the Field Site Concept for the Study of Cultural Evolution: An Anthropologist’s View

The birth this year of the new Cultural Evolution Society is an exciting and historic development, and I am privileged to have served on the steering committee responsible for its…
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October 19, 2015 in Blogs, Focus Articles

The Role of Ritual in the Evolution of Social Complexity: Five predictions and a drum roll

To overcome human frailties, a computerized database of global history has long been needed. Seshat: Global History Databank offers just that: a vast collection of information gleaned from the work…
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