The Place of Identity Dissonance and Emotional Motivations in Bio-Cultural Models of Religious Experience: A Report from the 19th Century

Adam Powell


Durham University’s ‘Hearing the Voice’ project involves a multi-disciplinary exploration of hallucinatory-type 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 generally.


bio-cultural model; identity; nineteenth century; voices and visions; emotional motivations

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