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When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God
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When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God

3.93  ·  Rating Details  ·  550 Ratings  ·  98 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 th ...more
ebook, 464 pages
Published March 27th 2012 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2012)
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When God Talks Back by T.M. Luhrmann is one of the most impressive nonfiction books I have read in some time. Luhrmann is articulate, dynamic and poetic, while effectively conveying the information expected from quality nonfiction.

This book is an in-depth look at the spiritual life of today's evangelical Protestants, particularly those in the Vineyard and similar churches, which have a decidedly experiential bent to their worship. Luhrmann chronicles the spiritual and social lives of this subcul
“Listen,” he said, “I don’t care what you say about me or anything, but if you start making cracks about my goddam religion for Chrissake—”

“Relax,” I said. “Nobody’s making any cracks about your goddam religion.”
—J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

When this book unexpectedly plopped onto my ‘to-read’ list, I had high hopes. I’ve long been interested in the social science of religion, and this was a full-blown anthropological and psychological investigation of a religion quite close to home. I
May 02, 2012 Tom marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
After listening to really interesting interview with author on Fresh Air yesterday, I decided to add this. I was impressed with how respectful and open-minded Luhrmann was in describing practices -- which some / many would probably find pretty unconventional, to say the least -- of Vineyard evangelicals and with how candid she was in discussing her own ambivalent spiritual leanings.

Update: 5.2.12 Interesting review from NYT
Clif Hostetler
Jan 23, 2013 Clif Hostetler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
T.M. Luhrmann is a psychological anthropologist, and in this book she examines the growing movement of evangelical and charismatic Christianity, and specifically how practitioners come to experience God as someone with whom they can communicate on a daily basis through prayer and visualization. The information in this book is based upon observations made over a four year period during which the author was fully immersed in their prayer and worship activities at a very emotional and heart felt le ...more
David Crumm
Jun 25, 2012 David Crumm rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Explaining Why So Many Christians Pray So Vividly

It’s easy to mistake this new book by Dr. Tanya Luhrmann, an anthropologist with training in psychology as well, for a book that tries to “explain away” religious experiences. She spent four years researching men and women in congregations that could be described as evangelical or Pentecostal. She was looking closely at the reasons these people develop such vivid, expressive prayer lives. How do they come to feel God is so alive in their relations
Jul 27, 2014 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
I found this book to be entirely fascinating. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the history, anthropology, or psychology of religion.

I have heard many people say that, after they prayed about some problem they had or decision they had, God told them what to do. I wondered what they really meant. This book addresses the psychology and anthropology of that experience.

In this book, T. M. Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stanford University, discusses the experience of membe
Miss Karen Jean Martinson
I wanted to read this book because I do not at all understand charismatic Christianity, and rather than be off-put by its (to my eyes) obsessively present and dominating relationship with God (2 + 2 + Jesus = 4, but 2 + 2 is somehow impossible), I wanted to understand what it meant to those who practice it. Really, I wanted to understand how it could be so meaningful to them while appearing so foreign and false to me. This book is an excellent resource; it is thoughtful, well-researched, nuanced ...more
Joy Matteson
This book was incredible. Regardless of your religious or faith affiliation, you should read this book. Luhrmann is an incredibly talented anthropologist and writer, a feat that is probably not mutually exclusive.
Thing Two
Jul 05, 2012 Thing Two rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Thing Two by: Fresh Air review
Shelves: nyt-notable-book
I listened to the Fresh Air interview with the author and immediately put this book on my list. I wasn't disappointed.

A trained psychological anthropologist, T.M. Luhrmann set out to answer three questions: How does God become real for people? How are sensible people able to believe in an invisible being who has a demonstratable effect on their lives? And how can they sustain that belief in the face of what skeptical observers think must be inevitable disc
Hannah Notess
Mar 01, 2015 Hannah Notess rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Anyone who wants a better understanding of American Evangelicalism should read this book; it's wonderful. Although her fieldwork is done in a Vineyard church, so it's focused mostly on the charismatic strain of evangelicalism, that strain is so influential in the broader evangelical movement - particularly through music and practices of spirituality - that I think it's really worth a good look.

There's something really refreshing to me about talking about spiritual practices in the academic langu
Roland Clark
Jan 06, 2016 Roland Clark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My four-year-old asked me recently how God speaks to us. Her picture book said that “you hear God with your heart,” which is a bit confusing, so I picked up Tanya Luhrmann’s excellent study on how charismatic Evangelicals hear God’s voice to find out the answer for myself. A psychological anthropologist by training, Luhrmann spent over four years as a member of two Vineyard churches – one in Chicago, the other in California – and joined small groups as well as attending regular prayer meetings, ...more
Dana Reynolds
Apr 27, 2015 Dana Reynolds rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Luhrmann has created a significant work to bridge the chasm in understanding for rationalists and skeptics when coming to terms with the evangelical Christian world. This world is one that is largely incomprehensible and Luhrmann makes it much more accessible, yet old epistemological debates about the ways of human knowledge of the universe will surface from the memories of Philosophy 101 classes. Empirical reality is over here, one's direct experience is over there and the question becomes, do ...more
Justin Bailey
Feb 01, 2014 Justin Bailey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The subtitle of Tanya Luhrmann's When God Talks Back describes the book as an attempt to understand "the American Evangelical Relationship with God". Luhrmann's focus on "relationship with God" means that she is not trying to understand evangelicalism as a social-political movement or theological system, but as a particular way of being in the world, a theory of mind. Luhrmann is particularly interested in that section of evangelicalism that takes seriously the claim that Christianity is "a rel ...more
Jeremy Garber
May 24, 2012 Jeremy Garber rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
An excellent, sympathetic, yet well-researched and objective look at how "revivalist evangelicals" train their brains to literally experience God. Luhrmann, an anthropologist, spent years with Vineyard Christians as a participant-observer to explore how they maintained faith in a God that was not directly available to their ordinary senses. Luhrmann also devised a sophisticated experiment that connected various forms of prayer with the psychological tendency to "absorption," that is, becoming to ...more
Justin Morgan
Jan 08, 2013 Justin Morgan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the best books on prayer I've read and it's written by a self-professed unbeliever! Luhrmann is an anthropologist who studies and immerses herself in the practical religious world of the Vineyard and other 3rd wave renewalist-style soft charismatic evangelical churches. She examines the cultivation of the idea of a super personal God and interaction that takes place between the congregant and this invisible yet more real than real idea. She approaches the practices of prayer as so ...more
Apr 11, 2012 Melinda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Luhrmann is an interesting person. I appreciate her openness and candor. Her interview on Fresh Air was worth listening to as well.

Luhrmann says about community..."The community is crucial, snarky as its members can be. It is tempting to look at this modern evangelical experience of God and see it as profoundly individualistic: me and my relationship with God. And that view certainly captures something real. But it takes a great deal of work for the com
Alex Templeton
Jul 28, 2012 Alex Templeton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a liberal with a Jewish background, I have definitely encountered a great deal of skepticism and even hostility towards evangelical Christians. This book, written by anthropologist/psychologist T.M. Luhrmann, did a lot to encourage my understanding and empathy for this population, something I think is important for me personally, disagree as I may with some of their politics. Luhrmann describes the complex and subtle mental processes and practices that American evangelical Christians use to m ...more
Matthew Green
Sep 07, 2012 Matthew Green rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My only complaint about this book is that Luhrmann conflates the Vineyard tradition and spirituality with the entirety of Evangelical tradition and spirituality. However, if you simply substitute "Vineyard" every time she says "Evangelical", you'll be fine.

Perhaps because Luhrmann came from outside of the church, she's not steeped in Christian-ese and the trappings of Evangelical Christian thinking, which can be abstract and circular. Her presentation is exceedingly down-to-earth, considering an
As a christian Unitarian Universalist who has a strong personal prayer life, I was intrigued by Luhrmann's research. I certainly recommend this book to its intended audience - rationalists who are perplexed why and how other seemingly rational and smart people can have deep mystical prayer lives. My own experiences resonate with many of Luhrmann's insights, including the way mystical experience thrives in a doubting and critical world.

For those seeking greater mystical communion, there are othe
Jan 03, 2016 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is exactly what nonfiction should be: surprising, bracing, fascinating, and occasionally maddening. Over the course of the book I found myself thinking several times some variation on "these people are completely insane, I wonder if I could be more like them." The highs and lows of the prayer, being so wrapped up in mediation that hours pass in what only felt like a few minutes, feeling overwhelmed by love to the point of weeping; how could someone like myself, who's been lonely, depre ...more
Jan 11, 2015 Sara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Christians who pray say they are talking to God, and folks who aren’t Christian respond um, but you’re talking to someone who’s NOT THERE. And then non-Christian folks get all confused. And then everyone feels awkward and changes the subject to something like football, unless one of the Christians happens to be one of those annoying ones who feel like they have to convert everyone, or one of the atheists happens to be one of those annoying ones who feel like they have to explain to Christians ho ...more
Nov 03, 2014 Yang rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Main question: How do American evangelicals form their relationship with God? How do they know when God talks back? Argument: It is about framing particular mental habits or learning to pay attention to certain mental events and interpret them as "external." Luhrmann calls it a Christian theory of mind (so unlike the "scientific" theory of mind, these ppl do not interpret their mental images as private; but learn to distinguish some of them as "external" (not belonging to their private self). Be ...more
Jun 04, 2014 CarolynKost rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: rel-spir
Before buying this book, do read the other reviews. The subtitle overreaches. This is not a sweeping, insightful study of American Evangelicals, but rather bears more semblance to an academic case study--an exploratory study of a particular group--of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship. In that latter effort, the book is successful.

This is NOT intended to be a how-to guide for spirituality, which is what many readers appear to be seeking. If the reader intends to learn more about how to have a per
Jun 24, 2012 Jen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
T. M. Luhrmann is a psychological anthropologist who teaches at Stanford University. She attended the Vineyard congregations in Chicago and California for years as she interviewed the believers about their experiences and beliefs. This is a fascinating book with extensive footnotes and bibliographic sources from evangelical, Catholic, atheist, psychological and anthropological writings.
Daniel Wilson
A must read for evangelicals, charismatics, and most anyone you is interested in the intersection of faith and psychology. Luhrmann is objective yet approaches faith (particularly American Christianity found in Vineyard churches) without any biases. Her insights ring true to those of both a religious and a non-religious persuasion.

I left with a strong impression on the power of the human mind, the imagination, and more so, the power that faith and prayer have on the human mind. Luhrmann doesn't
Lauren Callahan
Jul 27, 2015 Lauren Callahan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was a little long, but definitely interesting enough to make me stick around until the conclusion. The author did a very thorough study of the Vineyard church experiences and took years to study this subject through interviewing church members and taking part in their Bible studies. I think my greatest takeaway was the idea that we can train ourselves to better hear the Holy Spirit through either visions and/or prayer. It's a tough concept to explain, but basically, people who are highly abso ...more
Sergei Moska
Jan 22, 2015 Sergei Moska rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book because I'm interested in political deliberation and wanted to get some insight on how people who claim that God is giving them direct, personal orders can participate in rational political discussion. This book goes some way to answering that question, and in doing so it taught me a great deal about (at least some of) the American evangelical experience. It overturned a number of my preconceptions of evangelicals by presenting the complexities, tensions, and struggles inherent ...more
Aug 18, 2012 Sam rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved it. It is so refreshing to find an academic book that is both well-researched and respectful to Christianity. Explained a lot to me about a culture of which I am not a native! This book will keep me thinking for a long time.
I used this book for a group discussion with some smart Religious Studies undergraduate students. Together we read the introduction and discussed 2 other chapters. I think it's a great book for a couple of reasons:
1. It portrays (one version of) evangelical culture and practice in a sensitive and empathetic way.
2. Luhrmann makes a convincing argument about the importance of doubt to maintaining faith.
3. She makes some interesting connections between hippies in the 1960s/70s and today's evangelic
Allen-louise Erickson
Very interesting-more academic than I expected. The small section on Lonnie Frisbee was brief but good to see he isn't completely out of the historical account.
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Tanya Marie Luhrmann is currently the Watkins University Professor in the Anthropology Department at Stanford University. She has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has been the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship.

Tanya Marie Luhrmann (born 1959) is an American psychological anthropologist best known for her studies of modern-day witches, charismatic Christ
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“Let us begin by turning the skeptic’s question on its head. If you could believe in God, why wouldn’t you? There is good evidence that those who believe in a loving God have happier lives. Loneliness is bad for people in many different ways—it diminishes immune function, increases blood pressure, and depresses cognitive function—and we know that people who believe in God are less lonely.” 0 likes
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