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PHOTO BY MICHAEL LIONSTAR

What happens when people pray?

Anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann

Tanya Luhrmann is best known for her 2012 book When God Talks Back: Understanding the Ameri­can Evangelical Relationship with God, which examines how evangelicals and charismatic Christians experience and com­municate with God. A cultural anthropologist, Luhrmann has studied modern-day witches and the assumptions of modern psychiatrists. Her columns appear frequently in the New York Times.

How did you get interested in studying people’s prayer lives?

My first project as a cultural anthropologist was studying well-educated middle-class people in London practicing what they called magic. They experienced divine presence; they saw and heard things. I was flabbergasted.

It turned out that many of the people involved in this practice were reading St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, and the techniques they were using were techniques of prayer.

 

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