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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.
“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
"A simultaneously scholarly and deeply personal analysis of evangelical communities in America...An erudite discussion both profoundly sympathetic and richly analytical." —Kirkus (starred)
“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)