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Durham University

Department of Theology and Religion


Publication details for Dr Adam Powell

Powell, Adam J (2017). The Place of Identity Dissonance and Emotional Motivations in Bio-Cultural Models of Religious Experience: A Report from the 19th Century. Journal for the Study of Religious Experience 3(1): 91-105.

Author(s) from Durham


Durham University’s ‘Hearing the Voice’ project involves a multi-disciplinary exploration of hallucinatorytype
phenomena in an attempt to revaluate and reframe discussions of these experiences. As part of
this project, contemporaneous religious experiences (supernatural voices and visions) in the United
States from the first half of the nineteenth century have been analysed, shedding light on the value and
applicability of contemporary bio-cultural models of religious experience for such historical cases. In
particular, this essay outlines four historical cases, seeking to utilise and to refine four theoretical
models, including anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann’s ‘absorption hypothesis’, by returning to something
like William James’ concern with ‘discordant personalities’. Ultimately, the paper argues that emphasis
on the role of identity dissonance must not be omitted from the analytical tools applied to these
nineteenth-century examples, and perhaps should be retained for any study of religious experience