Tanya Luhrmann: "How Local Theory of Mind Shapes Spiritual Experience"

October 18, 2018 - 5:15 pm to 6:30 pm (already occurred)
Fayerweather Hall, Pruyne Lecture Hall
Photo of a large crowd of people at a religious event, with eyes closed and hands held up

Tanya Marie Luhrmann is the 2018 Willis Wood Lecturer for the Amherst College Department of Religion. She is the Watkins University Professor at Stanford University in the Department of Anthropology. Her work focuses on the edge of experience: on voices, visions, the world of the supernatural and the world of psychosis. She has done ethnography on the streets of Chicago with homeless and psychotic women, and worked with people who hear voices in Chennai, Accra and the South Bay. She has also done fieldwork with evangelical Christians who seek to hear God speak back, with Zoroastrians who set out to create a more mystical faith, and with people who practice magic. She uses a combination of ethnographic and experimental methods to understand the phenomenology of unusual sensory experiences, the way they are shaped by ideas about minds and persons, and what we can learn from this social shaping that can help us to help those whose voices are distressing.

Luhrmann was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003 and received a John Guggenheim Fellowship award in 2007. When God Talks Back was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year. It was awarded the $100,000 Grawemeyer Prize for Religion by the University of Louisville. She has published over thirty op-eds in The New York Times, and her work has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, Science News and many other publications. Her new book, Our Most Troubling Madness: Schizophrenia and Culture, was published by the University of California Press in October 2016.

This talk makes the argument that the way we think about our minds matters, and may shape the phenomenology of our mental events. It makes the case that different practices of attending to mental events have identifiable phenomenological consequences; and that different cultures and different theologies emphasize mind and mental process in distinctive ways. The way that people map the territory of the mind works as a kind of practice of attention: with practiced attention and cultural invitation, Christians report that some kinds of events come to feel more “external”—they develop more confidence that God has spoken, and they report a more sensory quality to the voice. The data suggest that one consequence of culturally different ways of representing mind and mental experience is that Americans have a harsher experience of psychosis, and less spiritual experience.

The talk is open to the public.

Contact Info

Lisa Ballou
(413) 542-2181
image of e-mail address@amherst.edu