Fuller’s School of Psychology Focuses on Integration and Prayer

For over 50 years, Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of Psychology has been committed to the careful integration of psychology and theology. One of the most visible demonstrations of this commitment comes in the school’s annual hosting of the Fuller Symposium on the Integration of Psychology and Theology—better known as the Integration Symposium—a lectureship that features a nationally recognized scholar who focuses on a single integrative issue.

This year’s Integration Symposium brought Stanford anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann to our Pasadena campus. With years of ethnographic and psychological work informing her presentations, Dr. Luhrmann has suggested that “our bodies kindle the experience of God in ways shaped by local social worlds,” and she discussed this theme through three lectures to a packed Travis Auditorium.

Integration Symposium School of Psychology Tanya Luhrmann LectureIn her first lecture, she made the case that prayer is an embodied skill that can be improved over time as believers practice attending to mental states. “Faith requires effortful attention,” she said. “In many ways this effortful attention is an attention to the mind.” Thrive Professor of Developmental Science Justin Barrett responded to her lecture by saying, “We act our way into faith,” and he compared Luhrmann’s insights to recent findings of cognitive science.

Luhrmann’s second lecture focused specifically on Christian believers’ capacity for “absorption,” a sensory experience of permeability between the self and God. Bill Dyrness, professor of theology and culture, compared these ideas to modern theologies that focus on “an inward disposition of feeling close to God” and encouraged the audience to fit “absorption” into a larger theological framework.

Finally, Luhrmann reflected on different approaches to prayer in cultures around the world and suggested that “local theories of mind” influence a community’s approach to prayer; in many ways, the “same God is experienced differently in different parts of the world.” Amos Yong, Fuller professor of theology and mission, maintained that while the evidence of Luhrmann’s study could suggest a straightforward answer, this project of studying experiences of God in prayer is tremendously complex. “Just because the grammars are similar between different experiences in different areas—and even different religions—does not necessarily mean that these all point to the ‘same God,’” he claimed. “Likewise, our sacred texts suggest that the Holy Spirit has often interacted contextually—meeting people where they are in their own time, space, and language. It’s difficult to land decisively on one side of the issue.”

Overall, Luhrmann’s work provoked lively discussion among those in attendance, and faculty, students, and alumni in attendance will continue to integrate her anthropological approach to prayer with their own faith for months to come.

Learn more about Fuller’s School of Psychology’s approach to integration.

Read articles on the subject of integration in the newest issue of FULLER magazine.

Listen to Dr. TANYA LUHRMANN's lectures

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