Tanya Luhrmann wins Grawemeyer religion prize

Luhrmann photograph
Tanya Luhrmann has won the Grawemeyer Award in religion from the University of Louisvile.

TANYA LUHRMANN, the Howard H. and Jesse T. Watkins University Professor, has been awarded the Grawemeyer Award in Religion from the University of Louisville for the ideas set forth in her 2012 book, “When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God.” In the book, Luhrmann argues that American evangelical practices of prayer can train the mind to experience God.

The University of Louisville presents four Grawemeyer Awards each year for outstanding works in music composition, world order, psychology and education. The university and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary jointly give a fifth award in religion. This year’s awards are $100,000 each.

According to the Grawemeyer Awards website, Luhrmann wrote the book after four years of fieldwork in Chicago and Northern California with Vineyard Christian Fellowship, a church whose members speak in tongues and pray for healing. She observed and interviewed church members and took part in prayer groups, Bible study and weekly worship.

After extensive research, she concluded that the evangelical experience of God involves a sophisticated use of mind cultivated through both individual practice and communal support.

Besides tracing the development of modern evangelical Christianity and showing how questions of belief have changed in contemporary times, Luhrmann applies important theories from psychology and anthropology to explain what happens when evangelicals pray, said award director Shannon Craigo-Snell, a theology professor at the seminary.

“Instead of asking ‘Is God real?’ she asks ‘How does God become real for people?’” Craigo-Snell said. “She offers a compelling exploration of religious experience in evangelical communities and a captivating account of prayer as a way of training the mind to experience God.”

Read more about the Grawemeyer prize.