Extreme Rituals and Social Bonding

Past perspectives suggest that many groups bond around a sense of shared biology (e.g., blood ties). Yet it has also long been known that rituals, especially those arousing strong emotions, bond communities together. We have been trying to unpick the mechanisms by which physically grueling rituals, such as immersion in icy water and walking through searing flames, produce social cohesion. How do the effects of shared dysphoria compare with the effects of shared biology in fusing group members? And are all shared dysphoric experiences equally bonding or do things like natural disasters and out-group threats affect social cohesion differently from painful collective rituals?


Oxford Team:
Michael Buhrmester
Chris Kavanagh
Harvey Whitehouse

Brock Bastian (Melbourne)
Jolanda Jetten (Queensland)
Jonathan Jong (Coventry)
Jamin Halberstadt (Otago)
Masaki Yuki (Hokkaido)


Selected Publications

Jong, Jonathan, Harvey Whitehouse, Christopher Kavanagh, Justin Lane (In Press). Shared trauma leads to identity fusion via personal reflection. PlosOne.

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

29 January 2014, “Ritual as Social Glue: An Interview with Harvey Whitehouse,” Evolution This View of Life 

20 August 2013, “New Atheism, Ritual, and Identity Fusion: A walk in the park with Harvey Whitehouse”, Centre for Human Evolution, Cognition, and Culture, University of British Columbia

23 January 2013, Social evolution: The ritual animal, feature article in Nature by Dan Jones. Including podcast of interview with Harvey Whitehouse

Whitehouse, Harvey (2012) Human rites: Rituals bind us, in modern societies and prehistoric tribes alike. But can our loyalties stretch to all of humankind? Aeon Magazine

Swann, William B., Jolanda Jensen, Ángel Gómez, Harvey Whitehouse and Brock Bastian (2012). When Group Membership Gets Personal: A theory of identity fusion. Psychological Review, Vol. 119, No. 3, pp 441–456.

Atkinson, Quentin D. and Harvey Whitehouse (2011). The cultural morphospace of ritual form; Examining modes of religiosity cross-culturally. Evolution and Human Behavior. Vol. 32, No.1: pp 50-62.