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When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 27, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (March 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307264793
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307264794
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.6 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #440,032 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"Evocative, often brilliant." —The Boston Globe

“Tanya Luhrmann is a very sensitive participant-observer and a beautiful writer, with a deep background in her subject, and her exploration of evangelical religion in America is at once empathetic and objective, as all good anthropology must be. When God Talks Back is one of the most provocative and enlightening books I have read this year.” —Oliver Sacks

"When God Talks Back is remarkable for combining creative psychological analysis with a commitment to understanding evangelicals not merely as scholarly specimens, but on their own terms. The result is the most insightful study of evangelical religion in many years." —The New York Times Book Review

"Luhrmann is a well-qualified guide: an anthropologist specializing in esoteric faiths . . . She has addressed a subject that most other people would never touch. We should thank her."  —The New Yorker

"A refreshing approach to this polarizing subject . . . [a] scholarly but deeply personal investigation." —The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"The basic theme of the book is that one comes to know God in a learning process . . . an insightful, sensitive, and compassionate study." —The New York Journal of Books

"Fascinating . . . On the merits of its sharp analysis alone, When God Talks Back deserves the highest praise . . . This book is here to stay, and every scholar, church leader, and pudit who cares about American evangelical culture is the better for it. It will reshape the study of American spirituality for years to come." —Books & Culture

"It's the William James study of our time." —Religion News

"Every so often, a truly great book comes along . . . When God Talks Back is certainly one of these." —The Huffington Post

"Luhrmann's goal is ambitious, even audacious . . . An industrious undertaking [that] produced fascinating results . . . We can thank Luhrmann for for describing evangelicalism as it has always been: a potent means for awakening a personal sense of the reality, power and mercy of God." —San Francisco Chronicle

"A simultaneously scholarly and deeply personal analysis of evangelical communities in America . . . [When God Talks Back] is an erudite discussion both profoundly sympathetic and richly analytical." —Kirkus (starred review) 
 
"Resistant to the scornful stereotypes of the New Atheists, evangelicals who shared their spiritual lives with [Luhrmann] come across as complex men and women whose faith reflects intense emotional and mental commitment . . . In this sympathetic yet probing analysis, the evangelical spiritual dialogue with the deity emerges as the consequence of a surprisingly self-conscious strategy for finding meaning in a whirlwind of postmodern uncertainty. Much here for curious skeptics to ponder." —Booklist (starred review) 

“Yet again T. M. Luhrmann investigates a puzzling phenomenon and illuminates it brilliantly. Whether you are a determined rationalist or a dedicated evangelical, you’ll be enlightened by Luhrmann’s synthesis—a worthy successor to William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience.” —Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard University
 
“T. M. Luhrmann’s gift is the ability to observe and report with the eyes of both an anthropologist and a novelist.  This alchemy is so evident as she makes this most extraordinary narrative exploration of faith and its manifestations in everyday American life. A lovely book and a wonderful read.”  —Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone
 
Prayer is not an aberration. As part of the daily life of literally billions of people, it must be regarded as well within the normal repertory of human behaviors. Yet anthropology—ready enough to discourse about religion—has never managed a thick description of prayer. This is the ground that T. M. Luhrmann breaks with a deeply engrossing, first-ever, thick anthropological description of prayer in two American evangelical congregations.  A remarkable intellectual venture. —Jack Miles, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of God: A Biography                                                                                            
“What if nonbelievers could understand how people come to experience God? What if believers could come to understand just how difficult the process of coming to experience God is for all of us, here at the end of modernity?  When God Talks Back is a chance for our divided nation to stop talking past each other about our national preoccupation: God.” —Ken Wilson, senior pastor of Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor and author of Mystically Wired: Exploring New Realms in Prayer
 
“Not since Robert Bellah’s Habits of the Heart a quarter century ago has there been so readable, so informing, so scholarly, and yet so winsome a report about any group of American believers as Luhrmann’s When God Talks Back. This is religion writing at its best—a masterful examination that is a candid, humble, clear-eyed, and affirming record of what faith looks like and how it operates.” —Phyllis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence and founding editor of Publishers Weekly’s Religion Department
 
“Rarely have I encountered a book that succeeds so admirably in exploring the interior lives of America's evangelicals. What makes this book so remarkable is not only the author's exhaustive and empathetic fieldwork but that her conclusions emerge from a deep understanding of the history of evangelicalism.” —Randall Balmer, author of The Making of Evangelicalism
 
“How can one live a life at once wholly modern and fully engaged with the supernatural realm?  Many books aim to explain how American evangelicals pull this off, but this is the one that will actually change the way you think about religion going forward.  Writing elegantly and sympathetically about evangelical lives while at the same time developing a profound theory of the learning processes by which human beings come to inhabit religious worlds, Lurhmann has produced the book all of us – believers and nonbelievers alike - need to put our debates about religion and contemporary society on a truly productive footing.  People will be learning from When God Talks Back for a very long time to come.” —Joel Robbins, Professor of Anthropology, University of California, San Diego

"This amazing book provides a compelling account of how evangelical Christians come to experience God as intimately and lovingly present in their lives. Drawing on two years of field work, supplemented by extensive knowledge of evangelical literature and innovative scientific field experiments, Luhrmann's demonstration of the role of both training and individual abilities in the shaping of religious experience breaks important new ground in the cognitive science of religion." —Ann Taves, author of Religious Experience Reconsidered

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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Customer Reviews

Recommend for anyone looking for peace.
John Petitt
I also find Mrs. Luhrmann's observations helpful in having a more robust conversation about what experiencing God is like, or can be, in our culture today.
Alex Van Riesen
She is very respectful to their faith, while also providing a thorough anthropological perspective.
Danyelle Mulin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

129 of 132 people found the following review helpful By Alex Van Riesen on April 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I am the current Lead Pastor of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship of the Peninsula (VCFP), which is one of the two churches Mrs. Luhrmann attended while researching and experiencing what eventually became this book. I am grateful for the perspective of someone coming into our church, who does not identify themselves as a Christian, and sharing with us (VCFP) what they experienced. I think there is a lot for us as a church to discuss, in terms of what those who visit our churches experience and what it says to them both about our church and about God. I also find Mrs. Luhrmann's observations helpful in having a more robust conversation about what experiencing God is like, or can be, in our culture today. While I do not identify with everything she describes, nor would I always define things the same way, I find her observations and insights engaging and enlightening. I would love for every church in the Vineyard movement to discuss this book and how it either does or does not reflect their congregation, but then ask the bigger questions of why or why not. In that process we can all have a more clear understanding of why we do what we do, and possibly - hopefully - even have a better understanding of what those who do not follow Jesus experience when they visit our churches. I think that should matter a lot to us. Finally, I consider Mrs. Luhrmann a friend and enjoy my conversations with her. I appreciate most that she is asking questions and looking to learn and grow. This book displays her sensitivity, compassion and kindness - as well as her intellect - in very clear ways. I recommend this book highly.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy Garber on May 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover
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 totally enveloped in a particular activity. She concludes that prayer in an evangelical sense is not centered on belief - especially not on unwavering belief - but rather on cognitive techniques that allow one to become "absorbed" in reconstructing a world in which God exists. The "kataphatic" tradition, or visualizing oneself in connection with Scripture and God, provided particularly striking results. Luhrmann's style is simultaneously intensely readable and intellectually rigorous. She lays out a way for both believers and nonbelievers to understand Christian practice in a 21st century world. A paradigmatic example of participant observation at its best.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Tom Dylan on May 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Even though I do not believe in a supernatural God, I am always fascinated by my religious friends' ability to have faith. This book gave me much more understanding how the human mind can make something unreal seem alive and real for these people. I always thought religious people are borderline insane. But so many supposedly very smart people (I have deeply religious friends who are physicians, even genetic biologists). This book also made me much more feeling sympathetic to these people. Because we are humans capable of rational (or irrational) thought, we all desire to be loved, to be cared, to have a social companion.

Some of the psychological studies are also interesting. Such as the test given to evaluate mental insanity conducted on these Vineyard specimens. The study seems to indicate these Vineyard religious people relate to God positively, when asked if they feel to have been followed or spied upon, they said no. But they always feel the presence of God not associated with negative, but with love and care. If a person feel some hostile force following them, they are likely to react violently, but if they feel a benevolent force following them, they feel much more at peace.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By melinda athey on April 13, 2012
Format: Hardcover
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 community to teach people to develop these apparently private and personal relationships with God. The community can help someone to stick it out and keep them at it, just as community can help to keep someone sober and to get them to the gym. It may take a kick in the rear to get people to the gym in the first place... but it is the friends they work out with who keep them there. " p. 279.

Luhrmann is a snappy writer with a fresh perspective. Well done.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By R. Ornstein on April 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A tour de force, as were her earlier books, Luhrmann has, like a not-so-secret agent, penetrated the "societies" of witchcraft, the Parsis (Parsi friends were amazed at her work) and, even, Psychiatrists. Unusually, she combines skills that are rarely joined in one person, a discerning choice of topic, empathy with the subject, at the same time the objectivity to record experience, and an understanding of other disciplines that bear on the subject. In this case those include evolutionary psychology and old regular psychology. And, she is a teriffic writer. Here she presents a worldview living aside the rational that has taken millions of adherents, and yet is completely unintelligible to most of the rest of us. "Evangelicals" calls up, to the receptive mind, either missionaries, or the Christian moralist, socially-engaged. But these aren't the evangelicals of William Wilberforce, but people looking for an inner voice "of God". It's a daily search for them, to feel a closeness with a divine presence right here and now. Luhrmann is compelling in describing these intimacies. Overall, it is not a heavenward or otherworldly pursuit but quotidian to the core, even sometimes shockingly so, asking God for, not only a car (vide Janis Joplin's "Oh Lawd wontcha buyme a Mercedes-Benz") but a red one specifically. We come to follow their pursuit intimately, a look not before, I think, ever presented. The author shws us, closely, this quest. Very valuable.
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