Go to Queens home page

The British Academy Networks Project on Modes of Religiosity

The Theory
The theory of 'modes of religiosity' was initially worked out in two books by Harvey Whitehouse: Inside the Cult: Religious Innovation and Transmission in Papua New Guinea (1995, Oxford University Press) and Arguments and Icons: Divergent Modes of Religiosity (2000, Oxford University Press), focusing mainly on religious traditions in the Pacific Island region of Melanesia. The theory distinguishes two very different modalities of religious activity. (i) a doctrinal mode of religiosity in which the emphasis is on explicit, standardized beliefs, repetitive sermonizing and ritual, wide dissemination of the tradition, and the institutionalization of religious authorities as guardians of orthodoxy;
Go to Inside the Cult page
Go to Arguments and Icons page
(ii) an imagistic mode of religiosity in which emotionally and sensually laden imagery is evoked in rare and climactic rituals, triggering intensely personalized experiences and lines of interpretation, and establishing enduring cohesion within small communities of participants. Some religions emphasize one mode of religiosity over the other. But it is more common for both modes to be present within any given tradition. Often, however, the two modes remain distinguishable, both to participants and observers. Many leading scholars are now considering whether modes of religiosity are really widespread and ancient, as Whitehouse claims. The only way to find out is to test the predictions of the theory against detailed evidence from a range of disciplines: particularly anthropology, history of religion, archaeology, and psychology.
Top of Page
Modes of Religiosity