This talk makes the argument that the way people think about their minds shapes the way they come to know spirit. This is done by looking at the kinds of people who have more vivid spiritual experiences (they are more likely to get absorbed in their inner worlds), the way prayers train attention to inner experience, and above all at the way that different cultures invite people to think differently about inner life. This points to a paradox: the more a culture imagines an inner world as separate from an outer world, the less vividly they experience gods and spirits and invisible others in general. When you look at people in similar churches across many cultures, Americans report less spiritual experience than most others—and this talk argues that we can trace this to the way they think about thinking. Why does this matter? The evidence seems clear that those who are able to create vivid and positive imagined others are better off (gods; imaginary friends; pets). This is a different kind of insight than the benefits of meditation. This talk argues that being able to create a positive relationship with one’s actively imagined inner interactions (we might call this “spirit” or even “voices” broadly conceived) enhances human well-being.

Tanya Luhrmann, PhD

Stanford University

Tanya Marie Luhrmann is the Watkins University Professor at Stanford University, in the Stanford Anthropology Department. Her work focuses on the edge of experience: on voices, visions, the world of … MORE