Excerpt: When God talks back is a book about how intimacy is produced between members of Vineyard, an American neo-Pentecostal Evangelical church, and God, who they learn to experience as a friend, indeed their best friend (Luhrmann 2012: 5), someone with whom they go out walking, have dinner, and chat. The presentation of an enormous wealth of data—the outcome of long-term, intensive field research— in the form of dialogues, statements, and testimonies from these believers, combined
with the decision to leave the more arid aspects of anthropological discussion to the footnotes, produces a clear and agile text, allowing readers, whatever their background, to immerse themselves in the presented universe.
Excerpt: Tanya Luhrmann’s When God talks back (Luhrmann 2012), henceforth GTB, is a fitting companion volume to her first (and equally important) book Persuasions of the witch’s craft (Luhrmann 1989). The two books address a similar issue— briefly, how belief, far from being a simple matter of receiving and accepting information, requires complex cognitive processes, some of which can be illuminated by meticulous ethnographic investigation. The situations are certainly different. The London practitioners of “witchcraft” among whom Tanya Luhrmann did her first fieldwork engaged in practices widely perceived as ridiculous, indeed preposterous. Their stated beliefs were eclectic and generally couched in rather inchoate metaphors. By contrast, American evangelicals practice a respected version of mainstream Christianity. What makes them special is a clearly articulated belief that God can, precisely, talk back.
Abstract: This article is a review of T. M. Luhrmann’s When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. I engage the book from the perspective of psychology of religion and suggest that the book will be of interest to psychologists of religion for three reasons: (1) psychologists of religion have emphasized the importance of “context” and “culture” in recent decades, and Luhrmann, writing as an anthropologist, offers a model for how psychologists of religion or psychological anthropologists with an interest in religion might attend to context and to culture; (2) the book offers new data about an understudied group or denomination of American Christianity, the Vineyard Christian Fellowship; and (3) the book is distinctive in its analysis in that it offers a reductive yet sympathetic and adaptive interpretation of American evangelical religious experience. To the extent that pastoral theologians are interested in psychology of religion, they will find this book of interest as well. Some limitations of the book are also noted.
Abstract: Tanya M. Luhrmann’s When God Talks Back examines how God becomes real in the minds of American evangelicals. How is it that sensible and reasonable people in this evidential world claim to walk and talk with God and experience God personally? Luhrmann answers this conundrum as an anthropological psychologist and sympathetic outsider delving into the world of American evangelicals. She finds that evangelicals are able to experience an all-loving God who has a direct and positive effect in their lives because they train their minds to do so. They school their minds to see, touch, and feel God. Reviewing the book’s important contributions to our understanding of how faith is conceived in the mind, this article raises questions for religious practitioners and those in the field of pastoral psychology regarding people’s efforts to have and to hold onto their faith in the modern world.
Abstract: T. M. Luhrmann sets out to explore a crucial theme in contemporary evangelical Protestantism: the process by which members of the so-called “new paradigm” churches not only learn how to pray to God but also how to engage God in entire conversations. Luhrmann analyzes how prayer, visions, therapeutic practices, and spirituality play a part in this process. Beautifully written and compellingly told, When God Talks Back deserves the widest possible audience.
Abstract: Throughout her career, anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann has inquired into the nature of belief. One focus of her efforts has been the question of how outsiders can grasp the beliefs of groups whose fundamental convictions differ from their own. In the work reviewed here, these concerns play out in a study of the Vineyard church, a charismatic Christian group. As she presents her ethnographic account of the group, Luhrmann also addresses theoretical questions about the evaluation of truth across different cultural contexts.
Abstract: This review considers T. M. Luhrmann’s ethnographic findings on contemporary evangelical Christian practices and her aim to bridge the “rift between believers and non-believers.” Luhrmann’s portrayal of these practices stems from current research within evolutionary psychology, sociology, and the neurosciences on consciousness and religiosity. Depth Psychology and aspects of non-affiliated, lived religions that cultivate such “experiences of mind” are also considered.
By Nofit Itzhak (University of California, San Diego)
While conducting fieldwork for her dissertation project among contemporary witches in Britain, Tanya Luhrmann woke up one morning to the startling vision of six druids standing against the window of her London apartment. The vision, a kind of temporary blurring of the boundary between the perceptible and the imagined, was the fruit, Luhrmann surmised later on, of visualization exercises aimed at enhancing one’s imaginative capacities, exercises she engaged in alongside her interlocutors, as she tried to understand how modern, rational people came to experience magic as real. In Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft (1989), the resulting ethnography, she suggested that it was specifically this kind of imaginative and sensory retraining that allowed her interlocutors to inhabit a world which was at once rational and magical. Luhrmann’s latest ethnography, When God Talks Back, picks up where Persuasions left off, or rather addresses a similar problematic in a different ethnographic context, that of the American Evangelical Vineyard.
Abstract: Many social scientists attribute the health-giving properties of religious practice to social support. This paper argues that another mechanism may be a positive relationship with the supernatural, a proposal that builds upon anthropological accounts of symbolic healing. Such a mechanism depends upon the learned cultivation of the imagination and the capacity to make what is imagined more real and more good. This paper offers a theory of the way that prayer enables this process and provides some evidence, drawn from experimental and ethnographic work, for the claim that a relationship with a loving God, cultivated through the imagination in prayer, may contribute to good health and may contribute to healing in trauma and psychosis.
Abstract: How does prayer change the person who prays? In this article, we report on a randomized controlled trial developed to test an ethnographic hypothesis. Our results suggest that prayer which uses the imagination—the kind of prayer practiced in many U.S. evangelical congregations—cultivates the inner senses, and that this cultivation has consequences. Mental imagery grows sharper. Inner experience seems more significant to the person praying. Feelings and sensations grow more intense. The person praying reports more unusual sensory experience and more unusual and more intense spiritual experience. In this work we explain in part why inner sense cultivation is found in so many spiritual traditions, and we illustrate the way spiritual practice affects spiritual experience. We contribute to the anthropology of religion by presenting an attentional learning theory of prayer.