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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

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  757 ratings  ·  128 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
Hardcover, 464 pages
Published March 27th 2012 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2012)
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Aug 04, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: religion
This book reads as if the author were trying to convert people to the Vineyard prosperity church. I thought when I bought it that it was more of a critical analysis of their belief system. So, since I am critical of this movement, I will offer my own views.

Little negativity comes out of the author's mouth about this church, and yet distractors are there and are telling their stories on the internet. They are hurt, shunned, depressed, and discouraged. Of course, since the church doesn't allow neg
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
Roy Lotz
“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. It
Apr 10, 2012 marked it as to-read
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
Dec 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Karen Jean Martinson
Jun 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 01, 2012 rated it it was ok
I started to read this book expecting it will explain and help me understand why evangelicals act so 'crazy'. What it really did was to convince me that they really are crazy, and, what's worse, neither them nor the author is willing to admit it. Come on, you are walking around with a voice in your head that you named 'God', you set up romantic dates with him, ask him to help you choose your clothes....and you still think this is normal??? I was disgusted and horrified, especially by the fact th ...more
Jun 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tanya Luhrmann does anthropology the way it’s meant to be done.

Perhaps a bit of a bold statement but I stand by it. Luhrmann conducted ethnographic fieldwork in two Vineyard congregations – Vineyard being a charismatic evangelical movement. She went to their services, participated in prayer groups, interviewed the congregants, and prayed as they did. As a psychological anthropologist, she was interested in how people started thinking in new ways as they practice spirituality. Because of this, sh
Laura Howard
Jun 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book exemplifies excellent scholarship perfectly tailored for any thoughtful individual outside Tanya’s discipline (or outside academia altogether). At times it reads with the captivating quality of a good novel. And besides being an incredible writer (honestly, HOW did she learn to write academically so... well, un-academically??), Luhrmann manages to convey a deep sense of respect for charismatic evangelicals while maintaining her clear position as an outsider to the evangelical community ...more
Sep 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
David Crumm
Jun 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
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.
Braden Siemens
Nov 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As someone who has grown up in evangelical/Charismatic churches, I think Luhrmann has been both generous in her analyses and also insightful into the danger and power that Charismatic prayer practices have on the mind. She comes as an anthropologist looking from a psychological perspective at multiple Vineyard churches in America, her findings are fruitful for me as a post-Charismatic. I would recommend this book to anyone who has wrestled with supernatural experiences, who has been taught to "h ...more
Thing Two
Apr 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Thing Two by: Fresh Air review
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
May 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Summer Seeds
Apr 22, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
Let me preface with that I really did not like this book, as, I'm sure, is evident from my review below. I mean, honestly, the terrible analogies alone were enough to drive me insane. I'm not very religious, but, coming from a Catholic background, I found a large portion of this book to be absolutely horrifying. Anyway, this is what I had to write for my History of Christianity class.


Today, approximately seventy-nine percent of American adults believe in God or a “higher power.” Of these a
Dan Glover
Mar 08, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. For a review, I would refer you to my friend, Alex Stroshine's review here on goodreads. For what this work is, it is really quite good (I debated giving it four stars). However, I read it concurrently with Hans Urs von Balthasar's work, Prayer, and although the books look at prayer from totally different perspectives (Luhrmann: sociological-psychological-scientific study from a strictly naturalistic, human perspective, trying to maintain strict neutrality about whether or not God act ...more
Justin Ariel
Sep 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Derek Kubilus
Jan 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
I came upon Luhrmann through researching a sermon about schizophrenia. I was so taken with what she had to say, I had to pick up her book, and I'm glad I did. As a clergy person in a mainline denomination who often struggles to understand contemporary evangelical culture, her psychological insight into those prayer practices that shape the conservative Christianity we see today are invaluable. Even though she immersed herself in the culture of Vineyard Fellowship, she is able to present her find ...more
Alex Stroshine
T.M. Luhrmann's "When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God" is a fascinating, in-depth look at the spiritual lives of Christians and how they hear and experience God in their lives. However, the subtitle is too bold. Luhrmann's study is more a study on charismatic Christians (many of whom ARE evangelical), particularly those who are members of the Vineyard, but there are many different streams of evangelicalism. There will be SOME similarities between char ...more
Aug 03, 2016 rated it it was ok
Second read much less satisfying than the first. Luhrmann excels at painting a (possible) coherent psychological picture of charismatic Christian prayer life. Her interview data and psychological takes are extremely valuable. Her narrative is at times witty and charming. For those reasons, it is a book I will come back to for ideas and sources. For instance, it is quite valuable to know and read examples of the spiritual and psychological work required to be able to "hear" from God on any kind o ...more
Justin Morgan
Nov 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Revelatory, even-handed, well-researched, this book gave me insight into a mystifying new outcome of our culture--the evangelical Christian. Luhrmann details history that led to this end result. Will definitely be buying this book and re-reading it.

“People learn specific ways of attending to their minds and their emotions to find evidence of God, and that both what they attend to and how they attend changes their experience of their minds, and that as a result, they being to experience a real, e
Jason Danely
Sep 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
It is a good sign when a book hangs out in your head long after you've put it down. This is one of those books. This may not be the book to read if you want an overall understanding of the state of religion in the US, or if you are looking for a broad understanding of Evangelicalism across the world. It is the right book if you want to understand what people mean when they say they talk to God. Reading Luhrmann's book feels like sitting down and having a really interesting conversation. Her writ ...more
Sep 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Definitely the most thought-provoking book I have read in a while.
I have been a devote atheist my entire life and this book did not change my beliefs one bit.
But, it did give me a better perspective of evangelicals.
When I was in elementary or junior high school every once in a while I'd watch one of the silly faith-healing televangelists on TV. "Evil spirits come OUT!" I thought it was the funniest thing I had ever seen. As I got older, I just thought it was one more sign that there are some rea
Dana Reynolds
Nov 13, 2014 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
Roland Clark
Jan 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Jeremy Garber
May 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
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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.” 1 likes
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