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An Exquisite Awareness of Doubt

  • Philip Francis (a1)


In a letter to a colleague with whom he was having a serious philosophical disagreement, William James reflected on how wondrous it is that the universe is full of such rich diversity that it could nourish opinions as divergent as theirs. This is the kind of epistemological humility that T. M. Luhrmann hopes to stir in her readers, particularly those non-religious readers who occasionally find themselves in mid-conversation with an evangelical Christian neighbor who seamlessly shifts the topic from lawnmowers to “the exciting things that God is doing” in his life—and doing in his lawn, presumably. For among the evangelicals where Luhrmann conducts fieldwork, nothing in one's life is too mundane as to escape God's warm regard or to occasion “His” real presence. How God becomes really real to people—sensible people, people like us—is for Luhrmann, an anthropologist at Stanford, the burning question.



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T. M.Luhrmann, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012).



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1 “Letter to Hugo Münsterberg, July 8, 1891,” in The Letters of William James (Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1920) 312–13.

2 Luhrmann, When God Talks Back, 320–21.

3 Ibid., 274–75.

4 Ibid., xxi (italics in the original).

5 Ibid., xii

6 Ibid., xxi.

7 Ibid., 35.

8 Ibid., 28, 31, 127, 259.

9 Tillich, Paul, The Courage To Be (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1952).

10 Ibid., 301.

11 Ibid., 315.

12 Ibid., 77, 142–43.

13 Ibid., 319.

14 Ibid., 314.

15 Ibid., 315.

16 Ibid., 322.

17 National Public Radio, Terry Gross, Fresh Air. “When God Talks Back to the Evangelical Community,” 9 April 2012.

18 Luhrmann, 316

19 Ibid., 223.

20 James, William, Writings 1878–1899 (New York: Library of America, 1992).

21 Luke 14:28–30.

22 Meredith, George, Modern Love and Other Poems (London: Constable, 1932) 42.

* Luhrmann, T. M., When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012).

An Exquisite Awareness of Doubt

  • Philip Francis (a1)


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