Worthwhile Reads: The Psychology of God

Tanya Luhrman, a Stanford anthropology professor is researching how Christians train themselves to converse with God through prayer. The entire article is worth a read, but I thought I’d offer an excerpt:

To understand how this deep prayer changes the mind, Luhrmann created an experiment during which she separated some people into a prayer group or a Bible study group.¬†Members of each group were given an iPod. The prayer group’s playlist consisted of Scripture readings, followed by questions about the passages that encouraged participants to use their inner senses to take part in what was happening in the Scripture. The Bible study group’s playlist consisted of lectures about Scripture.

Luhrmann found that after 30 days’ listening to the tracks for 30 minutes a day, the prayer group had more vivid imaginations. “I found that the prayer practice did sharpen people’s mental imagery. They were more likely to say that they experienced God more as a person by the end of the month,” she said.¬†“It also increased the chance they would report an unusual sensory experience,” she said. “Some of them reported feeling God touch their shoulder or speak with them or interact with them in a way they actually experienced with their senses.”

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • charlesbartley

    Where is this god that talks back when you are taking your much loved spouse for the 6th time to the hospital because her bi-polar depression is so bad that she is minutes away from killing herself?

    I remember knowing that God was real and that I could hear the gently prodding’s of the Holy Spirit. They even taught us in my church to remember these times as “Monuments of Faith” that you can look back on during the hard times when you can’t feel God.

    That works the first couple of times directly facing a loved one’s suicide attempt, but after 5 or 6 times, it is impossible to still believe that those were anything but an imaginary friend. If it was a real friend, he would be with you (and more importantly with her) during this time, not during the blissy time at a youth group retreat, or reading your bible out in a sunny field. The footprints poem is a lie.

    Thank you for posting this, and I am glad that they are researching this phenomena. As you can tell, this is a really tender sore spot for me. I am going to go cry now.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    Experiencing something that isn’t verifiably there would normally be called a hallucination. Strange that we don’t use that word in this context, isn’t it?

  • smrnda

    I actually do computer programming and statistical analysis for some psychologists who examine religion and psychology. For different reasons I can’t talk about research they are conducting, but it’s taught me that a lot of psychological factors affect the ‘religious experience’ the same way that some people are more susceptible to placebo effects.