Posts Tagged ‘Tanya Luhrmann’

Bialecki, “Does God Exist in Methodological Atheism?”

March 28, 2014

Bialecki, Jon. 2014.  Does God Exist in Methodological Atheism? On Tanya Lurhmann’s When God Talks Back and Bruno Latour. Anthropology of Consciousness 25(1):32-52.

Abstract: In the anthropology of Christianity, and more broadly in the anthropology of religion, methodological atheism has foreclosed ethnographic description of God as a social actor. This prohibition is the product of certain ontological presumptions regarding agency, an absence of autonomy of human creations, and a truncated conception of what can be said to exist. Reading Tanya Luhrmann’s recent ethnography, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God (2012), in light of both the ontological postulates of Object Orientated Ontology and the work of Bruno Latour, this article proposes an ontological framework that makes it is possible to ethnographically describe God as a social actor without adopting methodological theism. This article also notes, however, that the ethnographic description of religious practice, found in studies of the Vineyard denomination such as Luhrmann’s, challenge Latour’s own account of the difference between science and religions as distinguishable enterprises.


Luhrmann, “Talking back about…”

December 29, 2013

Luhrmann, Tanya Marie. 2013. Talking back about When God Talks Back. Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3(3): 389-98.

Excerpt: These responses are terrific and fascinating—not least because two of them contradict each other directly, and on a matter of considerable importance. Pascal Boyer argues that my observations about American charismatic Evangelicals are generalizable: that everywhere in the world, the intuition that gods or spirits are present takes work. In this sense, they are conjectures. Anthropologists, he writes, tend not to recognize this because their subjects present belief statements as assertions and then the anthropologists describe them in turn as indirect reported speech: “among the Fang, only the ancestors can make one sick.” After reading all those ethnographies it is startling to encounter the claim that the existence of these invisible agents is not matter of fact. But Boyer points out that there is no other good way to make sense of all the work people do in ritual.

Mayblin, “When God talks back about…”

December 29, 2013

Mayblin, Maya. 2013. When God talks back about When God Talks Back. Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3(3): 381-87.

Excerpt: “What’s an anthropologist of religion like you doing with a book like this?” This is what God says to me as he catches me reading Tanya Luhrmann’s monograph When God talks back one night. I look up, surprised, then back at the book again.
But God isn’t leaving the room. He knows I’m confused. He knows that although I do not know what I am doing with a book like this, I’m enjoying spending time with it. There is something about Luhrmann’s style of writing that has properly transported me: concise, poetic—she writes with a bold, “straight-from-the-heart” sort of voice that makes me want to follow. Absorbed in the moment, I sense the sofa dip down beside me with God’s great weight. It’s not that I can see Him as so many waves of light hitting my retina, or as I see the coffee mug sitting on the corner of that folded up newspaper; I see him in my mind’s eye which, because of my particular upbringing, makes Him old, white, and sort of hirsute: Marx and Gandalf, rolled into one.

GOD: You know there’s nothing wrong in enjoying a book if it’s good.

MAYA: But isn’t the whole psychology-oriented epistemology central to this book something I should be eschewing?

GOD: Not if you’re also interested in where the anthropology of religion has to go.

Eriksen and Blanes, “What kind of God?”

December 29, 2013

Eriksen, Annelin and Ruy Blanes. 2013. What kind of God? Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3(3): 375-80.

Excerpt: The anthropologist reader of When God talks back does not need to open the book to begin to collect information about what it is trying to convey, and how. By looking at the cover, feeling the pages in your fingers and, especially, glancing through the back cover, one quickly understands that this book, despite being written by an anthropologist, is not written as an “anthropology book” nor is it intended for only a disciplinary academic audience: the endorsements from newspaper reviews and famous neuroscientists, the thin, soon-to-be-brown airport bestseller paper, the mainstream publisher. . . . All these sensorial acknowledgements easily confirm our suspicion.

Jenkins, “‘Religious Experience’

December 29, 2013

Jenkins, Timothy. 2013. “Religious experience” and the contribution of theology in Tanya Luhrmann’s When God Talks Back. Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3(3): 369-73.

Excerpt: In her recent book When God talks back: Understanding the American Evangelical relationship with God, Tanya Luhrmann offers an anthropological description of the motivations and world-view of contemporary Evangelical Christians. This work forms part of a current movement by anthropologists to gain detailed insight into and understanding of North American Christianity (Bialeki 2009; Bielo 2009, 2011; Harding 2000), and may be set in the broader context of the “anthropology of Christianity” (Cannell 2006; Engelke 2007; Robbins 2003, 2007; Keane 2007; cf. Hann 2007; Jenkins 2012). I have two broad observations to make, one concerning what one might call the Protestant nature of experience as a category, the other noting the use of theological texts as significant anthropological source.

Stoller, “Cultivating the Inner Senses”

December 29, 2013

Stoller, Paul. 2013. Cultivating the Inner Senses. Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3(3): 365-68.

Excerpt: In 1988 I traveled to the town of Tillaberi in the Republic of Niger, West Africa to attend the funeral of my teacher, Adamu Jenitongo, a sorcerer of great repute. During an apprenticeship that spanned seventeen years, he challenged me to tune my senses to the spirit world. It was a difficult challenge. In the black of night, I would often awake to watch him converse with his ancestors—all great sorcerers in their time. I could clearly hear his voice, but did not have the capacity to hear those of his forbearers. At the time I knew that no one could ever replace my teacher but I did want to continue my education in Songhay sorcery. Several days after the funeral, I went to Niamey, Niger’s capital city, to seek out the master herbalist, Soumana Yacouba. I wanted to become his student. I had known Soumana Yacouba for ten years. During that time, we would spend many days sitting behind a mat at one of Niamey’s main markets. Each day he would display his medicinal plants on the mats, and between client consultations we would talk about herbal medicine. In time we developed a rapport but never established the kind of master-apprentice relationship I had shared with Adamu Jenitongo. When I asked to become his student, he didn’t give me an immediate answer. “Come to my house. My wife will feed us lunch and then we’ll see what happens.”

We took a taxi to what was then the outskirts of Niamey and walked to a dusty compound of three grass huts encircled by a three-foot fence fashioned from dried millet stalks. We slipped into Soumana’s hut and sat on palm frond mats. His wife brought us a bowl of rice smothered with a chunky meat sauce, which we ate with gusto. After the meal Soumana looked at me.

“So you want to study with me?” he asked.
I nodded.
“It’s not my decision.”
I stared at him in confused silence.
“Because I am a do (master Niger River waters and plants) I must ask the ancestors if they accept you.”
He then engaged in a ten minute give-and-take with his ancestors. He described my history with Adamu Jenitongo and said positive things about my trustworthiness. I, of course, could not hear the voices of his ancestors, who, after some cajoling
from Soumana, gave their consent.
“They like you,” Soumana told me. “They think I should teach you about plants and about the river.”
“But,” I said, “I couldn’t hear their voices, couldn’t hear what they said.
“Of course not,” Soumana said with a broad smile on his face. “You need to learn how to listen before you can hear the voices of the ancestors.”
* * *
Uttered in a dusty straw hut in 1988, Soumana Yacouba’s comment underscores a major premise in Tanya Luhrmann’s wonderful new book, When God talks back. How can a person, she wonders again and again throughout the pages of her illuminating text, claim to hear the voice of God? How could Soumana Yacouba or, for that matter, Adamu Jenitongo claim to have conversations with ancestors?

Vilaca, “Two or three things that I know…”

December 29, 2013

Vilaca, Aparecida. 2013. Two or three things that I know about talking to the invisible. Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3(3): 359-63.

Excerpt: When God talks back is a book about how intimacy is produced between members of Vineyard, an American neo-Pentecostal Evangelical church, and God, who they learn to experience as a friend, indeed their best friend (Luhrmann 2012: 5), someone with whom they go out walking, have dinner, and chat. The presentation of an enormous wealth of data—the outcome of long-term, intensive field research— in the form of dialogues, statements, and testimonies from these believers, combined
with the decision to leave the more arid aspects of anthropological discussion to the footnotes, produces a clear and agile text, allowing readers, whatever their background, to immerse themselves in the presented universe.

Boyer, “Why ‘belief’ is hard work”

December 29, 2013

Boyer, Pascal. 2013. Why “belief” is hard work: Implications of Tanya Luhrmann’s When God Talks Back. Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3(3): 349-57.

Excerpt: Tanya Luhrmann’s When God talks back (Luhrmann 2012), henceforth GTB, is a fitting companion volume to her first (and equally important) book Persuasions of the witch’s craft (Luhrmann 1989). The two books address a similar issue— briefly, how belief, far from being a simple matter of receiving and accepting information, requires complex cognitive processes, some of which can be illuminated by meticulous ethnographic investigation. The situations are certainly different. The London practitioners of “witchcraft” among whom Tanya Luhrmann did her first fieldwork engaged in practices widely perceived as ridiculous, indeed preposterous. Their stated beliefs were eclectic and generally couched in rather inchoate metaphors. By contrast, American evangelicals practice a respected version of mainstream Christianity. What makes them special is a clearly articulated belief that God can, precisely, talk back.


Carlin, “When God Talks Back: Summary and Commentary”

July 27, 2013

Carlin, Nathan. 2013. When God Talks Back: Summary and Commentary for Psychologists of Religion. Pastoral Psychology.

Abstract: This article is a review of T. M. Luhrmann’s When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. I engage the book from the perspective of psychology of religion and suggest that the book will be of interest to psychologists of religion for three reasons: (1) psychologists of religion have emphasized the importance of “context” and “culture” in recent decades, and Luhrmann, writing as an anthropologist, offers a model for how psychologists of religion or psychological anthropologists with an interest in religion might attend to context and to culture; (2) the book offers new data about an understudied group or denomination of American Christianity, the Vineyard Christian Fellowship; and (3) the book is distinctive in its analysis in that it offers a reductive yet sympathetic and adaptive interpretation of American evangelical religious experience. To the extent that pastoral theologians are interested in psychology of religion, they will find this book of interest as well. Some limitations of the book are also noted.

Kim, “American Evangelicals Talking with God”

July 27, 2013

Kim, Rebecca Y. 2013. American Evangelicals Talking with God in their Minds. Pastoral Psychology.

Abstract: Tanya M. Luhrmann’s When God Talks Back examines how God becomes real in the minds of American evangelicals. How is it that sensible and reasonable people in this evidential world claim to walk and talk with God and experience God personally? Luhrmann answers this conundrum as an anthropological psychologist and sympathetic outsider delving into the world of American evangelicals. She finds that evangelicals are able to experience an all-loving God who has a direct and positive effect in their lives because they train their minds to do so. They school their minds to see, touch, and feel God. Reviewing the book’s important contributions to our understanding of how faith is conceived in the mind, this article raises questions for religious practitioners and those in the field of pastoral psychology regarding people’s efforts to have and to hold onto their faith in the modern world.

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