Boyer, “Why ‘belief’ is hard work”

Boyer, Pascal. 2013. Why “belief” is hard work: Implications of Tanya Luhrmann’s When God Talks Back. Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3(3): 349-57.

Excerpt: Tanya Luhrmann’s When God talks back (Luhrmann 2012), henceforth GTB, is a fitting companion volume to her first (and equally important) book Persuasions of the witch’s craft (Luhrmann 1989). The two books address a similar issue— briefly, how belief, far from being a simple matter of receiving and accepting information, requires complex cognitive processes, some of which can be illuminated by meticulous ethnographic investigation. The situations are certainly different. The London practitioners of “witchcraft” among whom Tanya Luhrmann did her first fieldwork engaged in practices widely perceived as ridiculous, indeed preposterous. Their stated beliefs were eclectic and generally couched in rather inchoate metaphors. By contrast, American evangelicals practice a respected version of mainstream Christianity. What makes them special is a clearly articulated belief that God can, precisely, talk back.