Virtual Event: T.M. Luhrmann


How God Becomes Real:
Kindling the Presence of Invisible Others

in conversation with JACK MILES


November 6, 2020
12:00 PM ET


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Free - $5 contribution suggested at registration

Harvard Book Store's virtual event series welcomes T.M. LUHRMANN—the Watkins University Professor at Stanford University and author of When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God—for a discussion of her latest book, How God Becomes Real: Kindling the Presence of Invisible Others. She will be joined in conversation by JACK MILES, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning book, God: A Biography.

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About How God Becomes Real

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.

Praise for How God Becomes Real

“T. M. Luhrmann has a rare gift and this book is a rare achievement—beautifully accessible, intellectually humble, genuinely objective.” —Mark Noll, author of A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada

"This is a brave, subtle book. Luhrmann draws on her rich career of fieldwork in a range of religious communities around the world to reveal the basic scaffolding of spiritual experience—the combination of habits, practices, relationships, sensations, and stories that enable humans to experience God as real. She delves into the differences across faiths and cultures while also offering a bold, persuasive case for all we share in common." —Molly Worthen, author of Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism

How God Becomes Real is bold, thought-provoking, and very accessible.” —Amira Mittermaier, author of Giving to God: Islamic Charity in Revolutionary Times

Jack Miles
Jack Miles

Jack Miles

Jack Miles is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English and Religious Studies with the University of California at Irvine and Senior Fellow for Religious Affairs with the Pacific Council on International Policy. His book God: A Biography won a Pulitzer Prize in 1996. Its sequel Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God led to his being named a MacArthur Fellow for 2003-2007. The third in this trilogy, God in the Qur'an, was published in 2018. Miles is general editor of The Norton Anthology of World Religions and, most recently, the author of Religion As We Know It: An Origin Story.

Photo Credit: Louis Pescevic

T.M. Luhrmann
T.M. Luhrmann

T.M. Luhrmann

Tanya Marie Luhrmann is the Watkins University Professor at Stanford University, where she teaches anthropology and psychology. Her books include When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. She has written for the New York Times, and her work has been featured in the New Yorker and other magazines. She lives in Stanford, California.


Join our online event (or pre-register) via the link in the event description.
Event Series: Friday Forum

Harvard Book Store's Friday Forum series takes place on Friday afternoons during the academic year as a way to highlight scholarly books in a wide range of fields, with a particular focus on local scholars.

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