I'm currently interested in learning what American psychological anthropologist Tanya Marie Luhrmann has to say on the topic of religious experiences. Specifically, I'm planning on reading two of her books: How God Becomes Real: Kindling the Presence of Invisible Others and When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God.
Here are the book descriptions:
How God Becomes Real: Kindling the Presence of Invisible Others
How do gods and spirits come to feel vividly real to people―as if they were standing right next to them? Humans tend to see supernatural agents everywhere, as the cognitive science of religion has shown. But it isn’t easy to maintain a sense that there are invisible spirits who care about you. In How God Becomes Real, acclaimed anthropologist and scholar of religion T. M. Luhrmann argues that people must work incredibly hard to make gods real and that this effort―by changing the people who do it and giving them the benefits they seek from invisible others―helps to explain the enduring power of faith.
Drawing on ethnographic studies of evangelical Christians, pagans, magicians, Zoroastrians, Black Catholics, Santeria initiates, and newly orthodox Jews, Luhrmann notes that none of these people behave as if gods and spirits are simply there. Rather, these worshippers make strenuous efforts to create a world in which invisible others matter and can become intensely present and real. The faithful accomplish this through detailed stories, absorption, the cultivation of inner senses, belief in a porous mind, strong sensory experiences, prayer, and other practices. Along the way, Luhrmann shows why faith is harder than belief, why prayer is a metacognitive activity like therapy, why becoming religious is like getting engrossed in a book, and much more.
A fascinating account of why religious practices are more powerful than religious beliefs, How God Becomes Real suggests that faith is resilient not because it provides intuitions about gods and spirits―but because it changes the faithful in profound ways.
When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God
A bold approach to understanding the American evangelical experience from an anthropological and psychological perspective by one of the country's most prominent anthropologists. Through a series of intimate, illuminating interviews with various members of the Vineyard, an evangelical church with hundreds of congregations across the country, Tanya Luhrmann leaps into the heart of evangelical faith. Combined with scientific research that studies the effect that intensely practiced prayer can have on the mind, When God Talks Back examines how normal, sensible people—from college students to accountants to housewives, all functioning perfectly well within our society—can attest to having the signs and wonders of the supernatural become as quotidian and as ordinary as laundry. Astute, sensitive, and extraordinarily measured in its approach to the interface between science and religion, Luhrmann's book is sure to generate as much conversation as it will praise.
Before delving into these two books, I'm curious to hear other perspectives on the concept of engaging in spiritual practices that lead to experiencing the divine in everyday life. Is this idea commonly encouraged in most branches of Christianity, and to what extent? Does it differ among denominations?