A simultaneously scholarly and deeply personal analysis of evangelical communities in America.

Luhrmann (Anthropology/Stanford Univ.; Of Two Minds: An Anthropologist Looks at American Psychiatry, 2000) entered the Vineyard Christian Fellowship openly–declaring herself an anthropologist who wanted to understand the evangelical way and mind–and she was both welcome and eventually somewhat transformed. Near the end Lurhmann writes that although she’s not sure she’d call herself a Christian, she has “come to know God.” She begins by describing the current evangelical movement–how widespread it is, how God has become an intimate friend rather than a harsh judge and how evangelicals largely avoid theodicy. She sketches the history of the Vineyard and attributes to the 1960s counterculture some of the spiritual energy that animates the evangelical movement. As the title suggests, the author devotes much of her discussion to the conversation between believers and their God, a conversation facilitated by specific techniques of prayer. She spends many pages talking about the problem of hearing God’s voice, and attempts to cover all bases. For example, she includes major passages about the long history of the phenomenon, schizophrenia and skeptics’ reservations and disdain. Lurhmann underwent extensive prayer training, and her research is substantial–years of commitment, countless interviews, extensive endnotes and a vast bibliography. She accords deep respect for those whose religious experiences are scientifically unverifiable, and she concludes that evangelicals have, to a great extent, reprogrammed their brains and that they and skeptics live in alternate universes. One topic she does not raise: the economics of the movement. Who’s getting rich in the evangelical world? Does it matter?

An erudite discussion both profoundly sympathetic and richly analytical.


In the astonishment of a typical Californian evangelical at receiving a direct message from the Lord (“Whoa, the voice of God spoke to me”), Luhrmann identifies an emotional experience central to a “new paradigm” in American Protestantism. In that paradigm, readers learn, evangelical believers school their minds to defy a culture of doubt and so feel God as a living, speaking presence. Writing as a fascinated outsider, Luhrmann gives unbelievers an anthropological perspective on this new mode of religious belief. Extensive fieldwork, chiefly among worshippers at the Vineyard Christian fellowship, endows this new mode of belief with compelling human faces and stories. Resistant to the scornful stereotypes of the New Atheists, evangelical who share their spiritual lives with the author come across as complex men and women whose faith reflects intense emotional and mental commitment. Readers listen, for instance, to Jane, a sober yet engaging university graduate who follows the divine voice to the scene of an accident, where a prostrate woman needs her intercessory prayers. 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. (Bryce Christensen)

and excerpts …


“clear, extensive view into the prayer life and interior world of evangelicals”

SCIENCE NEWS (4/7) [report rather than review] Visions for All

“People who report vivid religious experiences may hold clues to nonpsychotic hallucinations”


Tuning In to the Voice of God – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education

NEW YORKER (4/2) Seeing and Believing

“She has addressed a subject that most people would never touch. We should thank her.”


“TM Luhrmann’s When God Talks back is refreshing in this polarized political year … provocative and enlightening.”


“evocative, often brilliant …. make[s] the strange familiar and the familiar strange”


This is a great summary.

A geeky atheist picks fights in good faith 4/18

“This was a fascinating book to read right on the heels of Thinking Fast and Slow, because both books seemed to be mostly about changing our intuitions and heuristics.”

 THE GUARDIAN (on line) 4/19

“Tanya Luhrmann’s new book .. makes me rather ashamed of my earlier revulsion”

 A house group blog review! I love this. 4/19ish

The Tony Jones Blog 4/27

“Anyone who likes this blog should read this book”

Religious News Service 4/30 

“I’d wager that it’s the William James study of our time”


“the most insightful study of evangelical religion in many years”


“The basic theme of the book is that one comes to know God in a learning process. . . . an insightful, sensitive, and compassionate study . . .”


a special designation for books Sam Tannenhaus really likes and thinks to be important

THE AGONY COLUMN by Rick Kleffel 5/5

“T. M. Luhrmann gives a clear, well written, scientific vision of the mind as it examines the ineffable. She describes with amazing clarity just how the natural minds of our natural world confront the supernatural. It’s a gripping, well-organized reading experience that will keep readers thoroughly, thrillingly engaged in a world that they can neither touch not taste nor see.”


“Every so often, a truly great book comes along. When God Talks Back: Understanding the Evangelical Relationship With God by Stanford anthropologist T.M. Luhrmann is certainly one of these.”


“This book is here to stay, and every scholar, church leader, and pundit who cares about American evangelical culture is the better for it. It will reshape the study of American spirituality for years to come.”

Books and Culture Luhrmann


“a very compelling look at how these more-intensely active Christians train themselves to spot daily signs of God’s presence—and build a congregational culture to reinforce that awareness”


David Crumm loves this book. We talk the Purpose Driven Life and the Ignatian exercises


“this book could be one that helps evangelicals to understand themselves better”

Quick Review: When God Talks Back | Legally Sociable

THEOPOL 7/11/12

“I have tendentious thoughts when I hear people say that God sent them a sign—to pull up stakes and move to Alaska, or turn left at the corner where they found an exceptional parking space. I’m prone to assign such belief to an incredible category that includes George W. Bush supposedly claiming that God told him to invade Iraq. (Was God also wrong about the WMDs?) Somehow I leave out of this dubious category the story of Martin Luther King Jr. on a sleepless night in the winter of 1956, nervously clutching a cup of coffee at his kitchen table, gripped by fear of what might happen to him and his family during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. At that moment (as he often recalled), he heard the voice of Jesus promising: “I will be with you” in the struggle.”

THE NEW REPUBLIC 8/24/2012 by Mark Noll

“[Luhrmann] combines a wealth of her own careful research with a wide array of social scientific and historical learning. And she has an extraordinary capacity to work at this combination with a degree of ideological humility that is rare in the contemporary academy … Stunningly effective.”

Among the Believers Noll TNR

PUBLIC BOOKS 12/13/12 by Matthew Engelke

“Luhrmann’s prose is beautifully simple and fluid; she has one of the clearest and most confident voices in anthropology today…On almost every page there is deft tacking between the heartfelt and hard-edged, between what any number of readers—anthropologist, informant, cognitive scientist—might find comforting and enlightening in equal measure.”