Your PDF has successfully downloaded.

You may be interested in finding more content on these topics:


You are not currently logged in.

Access JSTOR through your library or other institution:


Log in through your institution.

The Cultural Kindling of Spiritual Experiences

Julia L. Cassaniti and Tanya Marie Luhrmann
Current Anthropology
Vol. 55, No. S10, The Anthropology of Christianity: Unity, Diversity, New Directions ( December 2014), pp. S333-S343
DOI: 10.1086/677881
Stable URL:
Page Count: 11
  • Download PDF
  • Add to My Lists
  • Cite this Item
We're having trouble loading this content. Download PDF instead.


In this paper we suggest that it is important for the anthropology of Christianity and the anthropology of religion more generally to develop a comparative phenomenology of spiritual experience. Our method is to distinguish between a named phenomenon without fixed mental or bodily events (phenomena that have specific local terms but are recognized by individuals by a broad and almost indiscriminate range of physical events); bodily affordances (events of the body that happen in social settings but are only identified as religious in those social settings when they afford, or make available, an interpretation that makes sense in that setting); and striking anomalous events. We demonstrate that local cultural practices shift the pattern of spiritual experiences, even those such as sleep paralysis and out-of-body experiences that might be imagined in some ways as culture free, but that the more the spiritual experience is constrained by a specific physiology, the more the frequency of the event will be constrained by an individual’s vulnerability to those experiences. We will call this the “cultural kindling” of spiritual experience.

Notes and References

This item contains 47 references.

References Cited
  • ['Adler, Shelley. 2011. Sleep paralysis. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.']
  • ['Asad, Talal. 2012. Thinking about religion, belief and politics. In The Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies. Robert Orsi, ed. Pp. 36–57. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.']
  • ['Blanke, Olaf, Stéphanie Ortique, Theodor Landis, and Margitta Seeck. 2002. Stimulating illusory own body perceptions. Nature 419:269–270.']
  • ['Cardeña, Etzel, Steven Lynn, and Stanley Krippner. 2000. The varieties of anomalous experiences. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.']
  • ['Cassaniti, Julia. 2006. Toward a cultural psychology of impermanence in Thailand. Ethos 34(1):58–88.']
  • ['———. 2009. Control in a world of change. PhD dissertation, University of Chicago.']
  • ['———. 2012. Agency and the Other: the role of agency for the importance of belief in Buddhist and Christian traditions. Ethos 40(3):297–316.']
  • ['Cassaniti, Julia, and Tanya Luhrmann. 2011. Encountering the supernatural. Religion and Society 2:37–53.']
  • ['Christian, William, and Gabor Klaniczay, eds. 2008. The “vision thing.” Collegium Budapest Workshop Series, no. 18. Budapest: Collegium Budapest.']
  • ['Csordas, Thomas. 1993. The somatic mode of attention. Cultural Anthropology 8:135–156.']
  • ['———. 1994. The sacred self. Berkeley: University of California Press.']
  • ['Davies, Owen. 2003. The nightmare experience, sleep paralysis and witchcraft accusations. Folklore 114(2):181–203.']
  • ['Desjarlais, Robert, and C. Jason Throop. 2011. Phenomenological approaches in anthropology. Annual Reviews in Anthropology 40:87–102.']
  • ['Eliacin, Johanne. 2013. Social capital, narratives of fragmentation, and schizophrenia: an ethnographic exploration of factors shaping African-Caribbeans’ social capital and mental health in a North London community. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 37:465–487.']
  • ['Gibson, James. 1986. The ecological approach to visual perception. New York: Psychology Press.']
  • ['Hacking, Ian. 1995. The looping effects of human kinds. In Causal cognition: a interdisciplinary approach. D. Sperber, ed. Pp. 351–383. Oxford: Oxford University Press.']
  • ['Hardy, Alister. 1979. The spiritual nature of man. Oxford: Clarendon.']
  • ['Hinton, Devon, David Hufford, and Laurence Kirmayer. 2005. Culture and sleep paralysis. Transcultural Psychiatry 42(1):5–10.']
  • ['Hopper, Kim. 2004. Interrogating the meaning of “culture” in the WHO international studies of schizophrenia. In Schizophrenia, culture and subjectivity. Janis Jenkins and Robert Barrett, eds. Pp. 62–86. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.']
  • ['Hufford, David. 1982. The terror that comes in the night. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.']
  • ['James, William. 1999 (1902). The varieties of religious experience. New York: Modern Library.']
  • ['Kendler, Kenneth, Laura Thornton, and Charles Gardner. 2000. Stressful life events and previous episodes in the etiology of major depression in women: an evaluation of the “Kindling” hypothesis. American Journal of Psychiatry 157:1243–1251.']
  • ['Kraepelin, Emil. 1921. Manic-depressive insanity and paranoia. Edinburgh: E. & S. Livingstone.']
  • ['Kwon, Henrik. 2008. Ghosts of war in Vietnam. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.']
  • ['Levy, Robert. 1984. Emotion, knowing and culture. In Culture theory. Richard Shweder and Robert Levine, eds. Pp. 214–256. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ']
  • ['Lohmann, Roger, ed. 2003. Dream travelers. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.']
  • ['Luhrmann, Tanya Marie. 2012a. Beyond the brain. Wilson Quarterly 2012(Summer):28–34.']
  • ['———. 2012b. When God talks back: understanding the American Evangelical relationship with God. New York: Knopf.']
  • ['Luhrmann, Tanya Marie, and Rachael Morgain. 2012. Prayer as inner sense cultivation. Ethos 40(4):359–389.']
  • ['McCorristine, Shane. 2010. Spectres of the self. Cambridge: University of Cambridge.']
  • ['Miller, Donald. 1997. Reinventing American Protestantism. Berkeley: University of California.']
  • ['Mittermaier, Amira. 2010. Dreams that matter: Egyptian landscapes of the imagination. Berkeley: University of California Press.']
  • ['Monroe, S. M., and K. L. Harkness. 2005. Life stress, the “kindling” hypothesis, and the recurrence of depression: considerations from a life stress perspective. Psychological Review 112(2):417–445.']
  • ['Neisser, Ulrich. 1976. Cognition and reality. New York: W. H. Freeman.']
  • ['Newberg, Andrew, Eugene D’Aquili, and Vince Rause. 2001. Why God won’t go away. New York: Ballantine.']
  • ['Obeyesekere, Gananath. 2012. The awakened ones. New York: Columbia University.']
  • ['Orsi, Robert. 2012. The problem of the holy. In The Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies. Robert Orsi, ed. Pp. 84–108. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.']
  • ['Pew Research Center. 2006. Spirit and power: a ten country survey of Pentecostals. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.']
  • ['Rajadhon, Phaya Anuman. 1961. Life and ritual in old Siam: three studies of Thai life and custom. W. Gedney, ed. and trans. New Haven, CT: HRAF Press.']
  • ['Segal, Z. V., J. M. Williams, J. D. Teasdale, and M. Gemor. 1966. A cognitive science perspective on Kindling and episode sensitization in recurrent affective disorder. Psychological Medicine 26:371–380.']
  • ['Seligman, Rebecca, and Laurence Kirmayer. 2008. Dissociative experience and cultural neuroscience. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 32(1):31–64.']
  • ['Tambiah, Stanley J. 1970. Buddhism and the spirit cults in northeast Thailand. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.']
  • ['Taves, Ann. 2009. Religious experience reconsidered. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.']
  • ['Textor, Robert. 1973. Roster of the gods: an ethnography of the supernatural in a Thai village. New Haven, CT: Human Relations Area Files.']
  • ['Tsai, Jeanne, Brian Knutson, and Helene Fung. 2006. Cultural variations in affect valuation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 90:288–307.']
  • ['Tsai, Jeanne, Jennifer Louie, Eva Chen, and Yukiko Uchida. 2007. Learning what feelings to desire: socialization of affect through children’s story books. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 33:17–30.']
  • ['Tsai, J. L., F. Miao, and E. Seppala. 2007. Good feelings in Christianity and Buddhism: religious differences in ideal affect. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 33:409–421.']