A review of T. M. Luhrmann’s When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God: “Luhrmann is a well-qualified guide: an anthropologist specializing in esoteric faiths. Her dissertation was on witch-and-warlock cults in contemporary England. Later, she wrote a book on the Parsis, a Zoroastrian community in India. Her most recent book was the highly praised Of Two Minds, a study of psychiatric residents and their handling of patients who had visions, among other problems. Almost always, Luhrmann has written with sympathy, not scorn, for these convinced people.
Nevertheless, she is a scientist, and believes in evidence. She spent two years as a full-time member of an evangelical church in Chicago, and another two years in a congregation in Palo Alto. (Those are the cities where she was teaching during that period, first at the University of Chicago, then at Stanford.) Both churches were part of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, which came together in California in the nineteen-sixties and seventies, and now has about fifteen hundred congregations around the world. Most of the members of the churches that Luhrmann attended were white, middle class, college-educated, and centrist. They weren’t Pentecostals (that is, most of them didn’t speak in tongues or heal the sick). But neither were they just conservative Christians. In Luhrmann’s words, they placed “a flamboyant emphasis on the direct experience of God.” If you made contact with him, they believed, he would become your intimate, someone “who loves and cuddles you.
How do you find this God?” (via The New Yorker)