Skip to Content

Deleted Pages



£3.2 million from the ESRC

PI: Professor Harvey Whitehouse (Oxford)

Project Overview            

Some of the greatest atrocities have been caused by groups defending or advancing their political aspirations and sacred values. In order to comprehend and address the wanton violence of war, terrorism and genocide, it is necessary to understand the forces that bind and drive human groups. This five-year programme of research, based at the University of Oxford with a significant QUB component, investigates one of the most powerful mechanisms by which groups may be formed, inspired, and coordinated: ritual.

This project examines the role of ritual in child development, in social behaviour, and in the evolution of political systems:

  • Studying how children learn the rituals of their communities will shed light on the various ways in which rituals promote social cohesion within the group and distrust of groups with different ritual traditions
  • Qualitative field research, surveys, and controlled psychological experiments will be conducted in a number of troubled regions (including the Middle East and North Africa) to investigate the role of ritual in group bonding and inter-group competition
  • New databases will be constructed to explore the relationship between ritual, resource extraction patterns, and group structure and scale over the millennia

This work is being undertaken through the collaboration of international teams of anthropologists, psychologists, historians, archaeologists, and evolutionary theorists.

At Queen’s, Dr. Jonathan Lanman is working with colleagues from around the world to address the impacts of ritual on ingroup cohesion and intergroup relations. More specifically, Dr. Lanman is investigating the cognitive and behavioural impacts of synchrony, dysphoric arousal, prayer, and costly ritual displays through a series of laboratory and field studies in the US, Canada, and the UK, with further research planned in Brazil, Singapore, Fiji, and Vanuatu.