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Spiritual curiosity and the experience of God

Project Leader(s)

Tanya Luhrmann

Stanford University
This project sets out to understand how cultural variation in ideas about the mind shapes the way people seek and experience the supernatural through a large comparative project. We propose that although belief in supernatural agents may build upon psychological biases in human cognition, faith is culturally constituted through effortful attention, often to the mind and to mental events. Prayer, for example, requires the person praying to examine their thoughts and, often, to understand thoughts and other mental events in particular ways. We hypothesize that different cultural understandings of the mind—specifically, how separate the mind is from the world, how important inner experience is held to be, and how real the imagination is held to be—shape the way people pay attention to and interpret events they deem supernatural. To pursue the research we have built a team of eminent anthropologists and psychologists. Working with younger scholars and with international scholars, we will take a mixed methods, multi-phase approach, combining participant observation, semi-structured interviews, quantitative surveys, and experimental research. We will work in five different countries: Ghana, India (Tamil Nadu), Thailand, Vanuatu/Oceania and the US. These countries vary in ways that we predict have psychologically meaningful implications for supernatural experience. In addition to examining group differences by country, we will also examine up to four populations per country: urban charismatic Christian; rural charismatic Christian; urban non-Christian; rural non-Christian. We compare these four populations not only to have comparable groups but also to investigate the impact of charismatic Christianity and industrialization on the way people think about thinking and their experience of the supernatural. We anticipate that our work will generate seven books and twenty two articles and impact scholarly and public awareness.
Grant Amount:
Start Date:
September 2016
End Date:
August 2019
Grant ID:

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