The Ritual Animal

A Response to Reviews


  • Harvey Whitehouse University of Oxford



Evolution, cognition and history, group identity, Prehistoric archaeology, ritual, modes of religiosity


This is a response to six reviews of The Ritual Animal (Whitehouse, 2021). The reviews covered a wide range of topics, from evolutionary theory (e.g., Bryson; Shilton and Jablonka), to group psychology (e.g., Putra) and development (e.g., Umbres), and the evidence from archaeology and deep history on the role of ritual in the evolution of socio-political complexity (e.g., Watkins). Some of the reviewers spanned all these topics in various ways (e.g., Sterelny). I am grateful for the high quality of engagement and the many generous remarks. Although I also disagree with some of the arguments advanced in the reviews, I argue that they have collectively opened up a variety of important questions worthy of further research.


Atkinson, Q., & Whitehouse, H. (2011). The cultural morphospace of ritual form: Examining modes of religiosity cross-culturally. Evolution and Human Behaviour, 32(1), 50–62.

Buhrmester, M. D., Burnham, D., Johnson, D., Curry, O. S., Macdonald, D., & Whitehouse, H. (2018). How moments become movements: Shared outrage, group cohesion, and the lion that went viral. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 6.

Buhrmester, M. D., Reich, S., & Whitehouse, H. (under review). Identity fusion and going straight: How disclosure of life-changing experiences can impact positive reintegration outcomes.

Buhrmester, M. D., Zeitlyn, D., & Whitehouse, H. (2020). Ritual, fusion, and conflict: The roots of agro-pastoral violence in rural Cameroon. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 25(1), 298–311.

Ebner, J., Kavanagh, C. M., & Whitehouse, H. (2022). Is there a language of terrorists? A comparative manifesto analysis. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism.

Gantley, M., Whitehouse, H., & Bogaard, A. (2018). Material Correlates Analysis (MCA): An innovative way of examining questions in archaeology using ethnographic data. Advances in Archaeological Practice, 6(4), 328–341.

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Jagiello, R., Heyes, C., & Whitehouse, H. (2022). Tradition and invention: The dual stance theory of cultural evolution. Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Online ahead of print.

Jong, J., Whitehouse, H., Kavanaugh, C. M., & Lane, J. (2015). Shared negative experiences lead to identity fusion via personal reflection. PLoS ONE, 10(12): e0145611.

Mcquinn, B. (2015). History’s warriors: The emergence of revolutionary brigades in Misrata. In P. Cole, & B. McQuinn (Eds.). The Libyan revolution and its aftermath (pp. 229–256). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mithen, S. (2004). From Ohalo to Çatalhöyük: The development of religiosity during the early prehistory of Western Asia, 20,000–7000 BCE. In H. Whitehouse & L. H. Martin (Eds.). Theorizing religions past: Historical and archaeological perspectives (pp. 17–43). Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

Muzzulini, B., van Mulukom, V., Kapitány, R. & Whitehouse, H. (2021). Shared flashbulb memories lead to identity fusion: Recalling the defeat in the Brexit referendum produces strong psychological bonds among remain supporters. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition. Advance online publication.

Tavory, I., Ginsberg, S., & Jablonka, E. (2014). The reproduction of the social: A developmental system approach. In L. Caporael, J. Griesemer, & W. Wimsatt (Eds.). Developing scaffolds in evolution, culture and cognition (pp. 317–324). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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Whitehouse, H. (1995). Inside the cult: Religious innovation and transmission in Papua New Guinea. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

———. (2000). Arguments and icons: Divergent modes of religiosity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

———. (2004). Modes of religiosity: A cognitive theory of religious transmission. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

———. (2018). Dying for the group: Towards a general theory of extreme self-sacrifice. Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 41(e192), 1–62.

———. (2021). The ritual animal: Imitation and cohesion in the evolution of social complexity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Whitehouse, H., & Hodder, I. (2010). Modes of religiosity at Çatalhöyük. In I. Hodder (Ed.). Religion in the emergence of civilization: Çatalhöyük as a case study (pp. 122–145). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Whitehouse, H., Jong, J., Buhrmester, M. D., Gómez, A., Bastian, B., Kavanagh, C. M., Newson, M., Matthews, M., Lanman, J. A., McKay, R., & Gavrilets, S. (2017). The evolution of extreme cooperation via intense shared experiences. Scientific Reports, 7(44292).

Whitehouse, H., Mazzucato, C., Hodder, I., & Atkinson, Q. D. (2014). Modes of religiosity and the evolution of social complexity at Çatalhöyük. In I. Hodder (Ed.). Vital matters: Religion in the organization and transformation of a Neolithic society (pp. 134–156). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Whitehouse, H., McQuinn, B., Buhrmester, M. D., & Swann, W. B. (2014). Brothers in Arms: Libyan revolutionaries bond like family. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(50), 17783–17785.





Book Panel

How to Cite

Whitehouse, H. (2022). The Ritual Animal: A Response to Reviews. Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion, 8(2), 182–195.