Professor Harvey Whitehouse

Harvey Whitehouse

Director of the Centre for the Study of Social Cohesion (CSSC)

Fellow of Magdalen College

The evolution of social complexity, religion, ritual, and warfare; the causes of recurrence and variation in the religious repertoire cross-culturally and historically; explaining costly pro-group action and cooperation; the development of ritual and instrumental reasoning in childhood; the nature and origins of morality; research-based public policy applications and practical interventions.

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 influences 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 ongoing data collection now established at field sites in Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia, Vanuatu, Brazil, USA, Spain, Cameroon, and Libya. Harvey Whitehouse is also a founding director, and the editor for ritual variables, of SESHAT: The Global History Databank.


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

Lab group: 

Teaching and research interests

Harvey Whitehouse’s research and teaching covers a broad range of research topics and methods. His 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 Whitehouse is always keen to hear from prospective research students interested in working on topics relevant to his current projects.

Current DPhil students
Books and edited books

2021 The Ritual Animal: Imitation and Cohesion in the Evolution of Social Complexity, Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-01996-4636-4 (cloth).

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

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

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 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)

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)

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 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 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)

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

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)

Selected articles

Selected articles (2015-2021)

A full list of Harvey Whitehouse’s academic articles (including many in a downloadable pdf format) is provided here.

Whitehouse, H. (2021). From Conflict to COVID: How Shared Experiences Shape Our World and How They Could Improve It. New England Journal of Public Policy.

Turchin, P., Hoyer, D., Korotayev, A., Kradin, N., Nefedov, S., Feinman, G., Levine, J., Reddish, J., Cioni. E., Thorpe, C., Bennett, J. S., François, P., & Whitehouse, H. (2021). Rise of the War Machines: Charting the evolution of military technologies from the Neolithic to the Industrial Revolution. PLOS ONE. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0258161.

Stanford, M. & Whitehouse, H. (2021). Why Do Great and Little Traditions Coexist in the World’s Doctrinal Religions? Religion, Brain and Behavior. DOI: 10.1080/2153599X.2021.1947357.

Lang, M., Xygalatas, D., Kavanagh, C. M., Boccardi, N., Halberstadt, J., Jackson, C., Martínez, M., Reddish, P., Tong, E. M. W., Vázquez, A., Whitehouse, H., Yamamoto, M. E., Yuki, M., & Gomez, A. (2021). Outgroup Threat and the Emergence of Cohesive Groups: A cross-cultural examination. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. DOI: 10.1177/13684302211016961.

Meng, X., Nakawake, Y., Hashiya, K., Burdett, E., Jong, J., Whitehouse, H. (2021). Preverbal infants expect agents exhibiting counterintuitive capacities to gain access to contested resources. Scientific Reports. DOI:

Reese, E., & Whitehouse, H. (2021). The Development of Identity Fusion. Perspectives on Psychological Science. DOI: 10.1177/1745691620968761.

Turchin, P., Currie, T., Collins, C., Levine, J., Oyebamiji, O., Edwards, N., Holden, P., Hoyer, D., Feeney, K., François, P., & Whitehouse, H. (2021). An Integrative Approach to Estimating Productivity in Past Societies Using Seshat: Global History Databank. The Holocene. DOI: 10.1177/0959683621994644.

Newson, M., Buhrmester, M., & Whitehouse, H. (2021). United in defeat: Shared suffering and group bonding among football fans. Managing Sport and Leisure. DOI: 10.1080/23750472.2020.1866650

Kavanagh, C., Jong, J. & Whitehouse, H. (2020). Ritual and Religion as Social Technologies of Cooperation. In Constance A. Cummings, Laurence J. Kirmayer, Shinobu Kitayama, Robert Lemelson, & Carol M. Worthman (eds.), Culture, Mind, and Brain: Emerging Concepts, Methods, Applications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

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.

Whitehouse, H., François, P., Savage, P. E., Currie, T. E., Feeney, K. C., Cioni, E., ... Turchin, P. (2020). A new era in the study of global history is born but it needs to be nurtured. Journal of Cognitive Historiography, JCH 5.1-2 (2018–19). DOI: 10.1558/jch.39422.

Tasuji, T., Reese, E., Van Mulukom, V., & Whitehouse, H. (2020). Band of mothers: Childbirth as a female bonding experience. PLOS ONE. 15(10): e0240175. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0240175.

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.

Newson, M., Buhrmester, M., Xygalatas, D., & Whitehouse, H. (2020). Go WILD, not WEIRD. Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion, 5.2 (2017/2019) 1–27. DOI: 10.1558/jcsr.38413.

Yustisia, Whinda, Idhamsyah Eka Putra, Any Rufaidah, Harvey Whitehouse, & Christopher Kavanagh (2020). The role of religious fundamentalism and tightness-looseness in promoting collective narcissism and extreme group behavior. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 12 (2), 231-240.

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

Newson, M., Shriamizu, V., Buhrmester, M., Hattori, W., Jong, J., Yamomoto, E.M. & Whitehouse, H. (2020). Devoted fans produce more cortisol when watching live soccer matches. Stress and Health, 1-8. DOI: 10.1002/smi.2924.

Kapitány, Rohan, Christopher Kavanagh, & Harvey Whitehouse (2020). Ritual morphospace revisited: the form, function and factor structure of ritual practice. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 375: 20190436.

Newson, M. & H. Whitehouse (2020). The Twinning Project: how football, the beautiful game, can be used to reduce reoffending. Prison Service Journal. 248: 28-31.

Turchin, P., H. Whitehouse, P. Francois, D. Hoyer, A. Alves, J. Baines, … L. Xie (2020). An introduction to Seshat: Global History Databank. Journal of Cognitive Historiography, JCH 5.1-2 (2018–19). Doi: 10.1558/jch.39395.

Willard, Aiyana K., Adam Baimel, Hugh Turpin, Jonathan Jong, & Harvey Whitehouse (2020). Rewarding the good and punishing the bad: The role of karma and afterlife beliefs in shaping moral norms. Evolution and Human Behavior, 41 (5): 385-396.

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.

Kapitány, Rohan, Chris Kavanagh, Michael Buhrmester, Martha Newson, & Harvey Whitehouse (2019). Ritual, Identity Fusion, and the Inauguration of President Trump: A pseudo-experiment of Ritual Modes theory. Self and Identity. doi:10.1080/15298868.2019.1578686.

Reddish, Paul, Eddie Tong, Jonathan Jong, & Harvey Whitehouse (2019). Interpersonal Synchrony Affects Performers’ Sense of Agency. Self and Identity.

Alexandra Vázquez, Juan R. Ordoñana, Harvey Whitehouse & Ángel Gómez (2019). Why die for my sibling? The positive association between identity fusion and imagined loss with endorsement of self-sacrifice. Revista de Psicología Social. DOI: 10.1080/02134748.2019.1639343.

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.

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.

Kapitány, Rohan, Christopher Kavanagh, Harvey Whitehouse, & Mark Nielsen (2018). Examining memory for ritualized gesture in complex causal sequences. Cognition. 181: 46-57.

Currie, Thomas E., Peter Turchin, Harvey Whitehouse, et al., (2018). Reply to Tosh et al.: Quantitative analyses of cultural evolution require engagement with historical and archaeological research. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). 115 (26) E5841-E5842

Buhrmester, Michael D., Martha Newson, Alexandra Vázquez, Wallisen Tadashi Hattori, Harvey Whitehouse (2018). Winning at any cost: Identity fusion, group essence, and maximizing ingroup advantage. Self and Identity, 17(5):500–16.

Cho, Philip S., Nicolas Escoffier, Yinan Mao, April Ching, Christopher Green, Jonathan Jong, and Harvey Whitehouse (2018). Groups and Emotional Arousal Mediate Neural Synchrony and Perceived Ritual Efficacy. Frontiers in Psychology. 9: 1664-1078.

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.

Harvey Whitehouse (2018). Four things we need to know about extreme self-sacrifice. Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 41, e192: 44-52. doi:10.1017/S0140525X1800208X, e222.

Harvey Whitehouse (2018) Dying for the group: Towards a general theory of extreme self-sacrifice Behavioral and Brain Sciences 42, 1-64. doi:10.1017/S0140525X18000249

Martha Newson, Tiago Bortolini, Michael Buhrmester, Silvio Ricardo da Silva, Jefferson Nicassio Queiroga da Aquino and Harvey Whitehouse (2018) Brazil's football warriors: Social bonding and inter-group violence. In Press, Elsevier, Press release for EurekAlert! Science News.

Matthew A. J. Apps, Ryan McKay, Ruben T. Azevedo, Harvey Whitehouse and Manos Tsakiris (2018) Not on my team: Medial prefrontal cortex responses to ingroup fusion and unfair monetary divisions. Onlinelibrary Wiley

Christopher Kavanagh, Jonathan Jong, Ryan McKay, Harvey Whitehouse. (2018) Positive experiences of high arousal martial arts rituals are linked to identity fusion bonds and costly pro-group actionsEuropean Journal of Social Psychology

Michael D. Buhrmester, Dawn Burnham, Dominic D. P. Johnson, Oliver S. Curry, David W. Macdonald, Harvey Whitehouse (2018) How Moments Become Movements: Shared Outrage, Group Cohesion, and the Lion That Went ViralFrontiers

Peter N. Peregrine, Rob Brennan, Thomas Currie, Kevin Feeney, Pieter Francois, Peter Turchin & Harvey Whitehouse (2018) Dacura: A new solution to data harvesting and knowledge extraction for the historical sciences. Taylor & Francis 

Oliver Curry, L Rowland, C Van Lissa, S Zlotowitz, J McAlaney, Harvey Whitehouse (2018 In Press) Happy to help? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of performing acts of kindness on the well-being of the actorJournal of Experimental Social Psychology

Oliver Scott Curry, Daniel Austin Mullins  and Harvey Whitehouse (2018 In Press) Is it good to cooperate? Testing the theory of morality-as-cooperation in 60 societiesCurrent Anthropology 

Joshua Conrad Jackson, Jonathan Jong, David Bilkey, Harvey Whitehouse, Stefanie Zollmann, Craig McNaughton, and Jamin Halberstadt (2018) Synchrony and physiological arousal increase cohesion and cooperation in large naturalistic groupsNature: Scientific Reports, 8 (1), 127. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-18023-4

Peter Turchin, Thomas E. Currie, Whitehouse, Harvey, 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)  doi:10. 1073/pnas.1708800115/-/DCSupplemental.

Mullins, D. A., Hoyer, D., Collins, C., Currie, T., Feeney, K. C., François, P.,  Savage, P.E., Whitehouse, H., & Turchin, P.  (2017). A Systematic Assessment of the Axial Age Thesis for the Emergence of Moralizing Religious Thought. SocArXiv. doi: 10.17605/OSF.IO/R9CZX. 

With contributions from founders of the field, including Justin Barrett, E. Thomas Lawson, Robert N. McCauley, Paschal Boyer, Armin Geertz and Harvey Whitehouse, as well as from younger scholars from successive stages in the field's development, this is an important survey of the first twenty-five years of the cognitive science of religion. (2017) Twenty-Five Years of CSR: A Personal Retrospective PDFBloomsbury Academic, 1,  ISBN: 9781350032460

Daniel Austin Mullins, Daniel Hoyer, Christina Collins, Thomas Currie, Kevin Feeney, Pieter Francois, Patrick E. Savage, Harvey Whitehouse, Pieter Turchin (2017) A systematic assessment of 'Axial Age' proposals using global comparative historical evidenceAmerican Sociological Review, 10.17605/OSF.IO/U6TSD

Whitehouse, Harvey, Jonathan Jong, Michael D. Buhrmester, Ángel Gómez, Brock Bastian, Christopher M. Kavanagh, Martha Newson, Miriam Matthews, Jonathan A. Lanman, Ryan McKay and Sergey Gavrilets (2017). The evolution of extreme cooperation via intense shared experiences. Scientific Reports. doi:10.1038/srep44292.

Rybanska, Veronika, Ryan McKay, Jonathan Jong, and Harvey Whitehouse (2017). Rituals improve children's ability to delay gratification. Child Development.

Peregrine, Peter, Joe Brewer, Michele Gelfand, Joshua Jackson, Ian MacDonald, Pete Richerson, Peter Turchin, Harvey Whitehouse, and David Sloan Wilson (2017). Grand Challenges for the Study of Cultural Evolution. Nature Ecology & Evolution. Nature Ecology & Evolution. doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0070

Alexandra Vázquez, Ángel Gómez, Juan R. Ordoñana, William B. Swann & Harvey Whitehouse (2017): Sharing genes fosters identity fusion and altruism, Self and Identity.

Watson-Jones, Rachel E., Harvey Whitehouse, and Cristine H. Legare (2016). In-group ostracism increases high fidelity imitation in early childhood. Psychological Science. Vol. 27(1) 34–42. DOI: 10.1177/0956797615607205

McKay, Ryan T., and Harvey Whitehouse (2016). Religion promotes a love for thy neighbor. But how big is the neighbourhood? (Commentary on Norenzayan et al.). Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 39. doi: 10.1017/S0140525X15000503

Wilson, David Sloan, Yasha Hartberg, Ian MacDonald, Jonathan A. Lanman, and Harvey Whitehouse (2016) The Nature of Religious Diversity: A Cultural Ecosystem Approach. Religion, Brain, and Behavior. DOI: 10.1080/2153599X.2015. 1132243

Jamin Halberstadt, Jamin, Joshua Conrad Jackson, David Bilkey, Jonathan Jong, Harvey Whitehouse, Craig McNaughton, Stefanie Zollmann (2016). Incipient Social Groups: An Analysis via In-Vivo Behavioral Tracking. PLoS ONE 11(3): e0149880.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0149880

Newson Martha, Michael D. Buhrmester, and Harvey Whitehouse (2016) Explaining Lifelong Loyalty: The Role of Identity Fusion and Self-Shaping Group Events. PLoS ONE 11(8): e0160427. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0160427

Francois, Pieter, Peter Turchin, Joseph Manning, Robert Brennan, Thomas Currie, Kevin Feeney, and Harvey Whitehouse (2016). "A Macroscope for Global History. Seshat: Global History Databank: a methodological overview. Digital Humanities Quarterly. Vol.10, No.4.

Reddish, P., Tong, E. M. W., Jong, J., Lanman, J. A. and Whitehouse, H. (2016), Collective synchrony increases prosociality towards non-performers and outgroup members. Br. J. Soc. Psychol.. doi:10.1111/bjso.12165

Juan Jiménez, Ángel Gómez, Michael D. Buhrmester, Alexandra Vázquez, Harvey Whitehouse, William B. Swann, Jr. (2015). The Dynamic Identity Fusion Index (DIFI): A new continuous measure of identity fusion for Web-based questionnaires. Social Science Computer Review. DOI: 10.1177/0894439314566178

Legare, Cristine H., Nicole J. WenPatricia 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

Turchin, Peter, Rob Brennan, Thomas E. Currie, Kevin C. Feeney, Pieter François, Daniel Hoyer, J. G. Manning, Arkadiusz Marciniak, Daniel Mullins, Alessio Palmisano, Peter Peregrine, Edward A. L. Turner, and Harvey Whitehouse (2015). Seshat: The Global History Databank. Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution 6(1): 77-107.

Currie, Thomas E., Amy Bogaard, Rudolf Cesaretti, Neil R. Edwards, Pieter François, Phillip B. Holden, Daniel Hoyer, Andrey Korotayev, Joe Manning, Juan Carlos Moreno Garcia, Oluwole K. Oyebamiji, Cameron Petrie, Peter Turchin, Harvey Whitehouse, and Alice Williams (2015). Agricultural Productivity in Past Societies: Toward an Empirically Informed Model for Testing Cultural Evolutionary Hypotheses. Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution 6(1): 24-56.

Salali, Gul Deniz, Harvey Whitehouse, and Michael E. Hochberg (2015). A Life-Cycle Model of Human Social Groups Produces a U-Shaped Distribution in Group Size. PLoS ONE 10(9): e0138496. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0138496

Gaviria, Elena, Carolina Ferreira, Mercedes Martínez, and Harvey Whitehouse (2015). Identity and the developmental origins of fusion: an exploratory approach / La identidad y los orígenes de la fusion en el desarrollo: un enfoque exploratorio. Revista de Psicología Social / International Journal of Social Psychology, 30(3), 531-62. DOI: 10.1080/02134748.2015.1065088

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

Whitehouse, Harvey, Pieter François, and Peter Turchin (2015). The Role of Ritual in the Evolution of Social Complexity: Five predictions and a drum roll. Cliodynamics 6(2): 199-210.

Whitehouse, Harvey, Pieter François, and Peter Turchin (2015). Can there be a science of history? Response to commentaries on “The Role of Ritual in the Evolution of Social Complexity: Five Predictions and a Drum Roll”. Cliodynamics 6(2): 214-16.