How God Becomes Real: Kindling the Presence of Invisible Others

Jack Petranker interviews Tanya Luhrmann for the New Books Network. Tanya Luhrmann has spent much of her career as an anthropologist investigating the complex ways that people engage religion and the supernatural. In How God Becomes Real: Kindling the Presence of Invisible Others (Princeton UP, 2020) she sets aside the question of what people believe and asks instead how they go about believing it: the rituals of prayer, offering, and confession that let them enter a different world, where the God or gods they believe in are truly present. Luhrmann writes that people learn to have “flexible ontologies”—accepting the reality of the divine in one context and setting it aside in another. She emphasizes the role of imagination, not because the gods they worship are imaginary, because connecting with the divine is a talent that can be developed. Her accounts range widely across many different religious traditions, looking for both commonalities and differences.