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When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with Godby T M Luhrmann
Synopses & Reviews
How does God become and remain real for modern evangelicals? How are rational, sensible people of faith able to experience the presence of a powerful yet invisible being and sustain that belief in an environment of overwhelming skepticism? T. M. Luhrmann, an anthropologist trained in psychology and the acclaimed author of Of Two Minds, explores the extraordinary process that leads some believers to a place where God is profoundly real and his voice can be heard amid the clutter of everyday thoughts.
While attending services and various small group meetings at her local branch of the Vineyard, an evangelical church with hundreds of congregations across the country, Luhrmann sought to understand how some members were able to communicate with God, not just through one-sided prayers but with discernable feedback. Some saw visions, while others claimed to hear the voice of God himself. For these congregants and many other Christians, God was intensely alive. After holding a series of honest, personal interviews with Vineyard members who claimed to have had isolated or ongoing supernatural experiences with God, Luhrmann hypothesized that the practice of prayer could train a person to hear God’s voice—to use one’s mind differently and focus on God’s voice until it became clear. A subsequent experiment conducted between people who were and weren’t practiced in prayer further illuminated her conclusion. For those who have trained themselves to concentrate on their inner experiences, God is experienced in the brain as an actual social relationship: his voice was identified, and that identification was trusted and regarded as real and interactive.
Astute, deeply intelligent, and sensitive, When God Talks Back is a remarkable approach to the intersection of religion, psychology, and science, and the effect it has on the daily practices of the faithful.
"Psychological anthropologist Luhrmann (Of Two Minds) offers an extended case study examining how believers come to have faith in an active, present God despite secular pressures in contemporary America. Drawing on extensive interviews and personal experience among Vineyard Movement members, Luhrmann focuses on the use of prayer among charismatic evangelical Christians. Her work combines personal narratives and excerpts from bestselling evangelical how-to guides with theories and data from psychology. While maintaining a stance both sympathetic to the evangelical position and scientifically rigorous, these different modes of writing do not always mesh well. For instance, the largely narrative mode gives way in the middle to an extended description of methods and data from her psychological research. In addition, Luhrmann opens and closes with a brief sketch of the history and politics of the evangelical movement, although her focus is on personal belief, not the political engagement of evangelicals. Such material partially distracts from the clear, extensive view into the prayer life and interior world of evangelicals. Luhrmann's intended audience is skeptics attempting to understand the evangelical approach to God. Her work will also appeal to believers curious about psychological research on prayer. Agent: Jill Kneerim. (Mar.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A bold approach to understanding the American evangelical experience from an anthropological and psychological perspective by one of the country's most prominent anthropologists.
Through a series of intimate, illuminating interviews with various members of the Vineyard, an evangelical church with hundreds of congregations across the country, Tanya Luhrmann leaps into the heart of evangelical faith. Combined with scientific research that studies the effect that intensely practiced prayer can have on the mind, When God Talks Back examines how normal, rational people--from college students to accountants to housewives, all functioning perfectly well within our society--can attest to having the signs and wonders of the supernatural become as quotidian and as ordinary as laundry. Astute, sensitive, and extraordinarily measured in its approach to the interface between science and religion, Tanya Luhrmann's book is sure to generate as much conversation as it will garner praise.
About the Author
TANYA LUHRMANN is a psychological anthropologist and a professor in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University. She received her education from Harvard and Cambridge universities, and was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003. In 2007, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.
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