Tanya Luhrmann (Stanford Univ.)
“Invisible others: How metacognitive practices make real the unseen”
For a while now my work has settled on the way that people monitor and attend to their cognitive and affective experiences. The first part of my talk will describe my ethnographic work with evangelical Christians who seek a personal, intimate relationship with God—one in which God will talk back. My work suggests that these Christians use prayer practice to monitor their mental experience and that they selectively attend to some mental events and not others by following rules to discern God’s voice (they look for mental events which are spontaneous/loud; which are the kind of thing a loving God would say; which give them peace; and which they then test against actual events). They practice this attention by deliberately pretending to interact with God, although they treat the pretense as not quite fiction. They also participate in a series of emotional practices (like having church members stand in for God in prayer, or treating God as a therapist) which in effect provide real-world experiences of love and care. I used experimental and psychological work to show that these prayer practices changed people in specific ways—their mental imagery became sharper, they reported more unusual sensory events, and their sense of God as loving became stronger.
It was clear to me in doing that work that a specific set of ideas about the mind—what I’ll call local theory of mind—was at play in the way that these Americans learned to attend to their mind. I am now comparing the way new charismatic evangelical Christians in Accra and Chennai describe the back-and-forth conversation with God (what you could call the imaginal dialogue) and the way people with schizophrenia in Accra, Chennai and the US describe the quality and content of their auditory hallucinations.