I grew up with these questions. My mother is the daughter of a Baptist minister, my father (a psychiatrist) the son of Christian Scientists, and when I was young we lived in a neighborhood with Orthodox Jews. I grew up among many wise people who thought differently about the world, and I was curious about how they made those decisions, and what an observer could say about the ways they used and experienced their minds in making those decisions.

I use my training in psychological anthropology to understand how people know what is real. I don’t pass judgment on whether they are right. Instead, I ask: what leads people to make the judgment that God was present? What do they perceive that makes them more confident or more uncertain? How have they learned to pay attention? What does spiritual power or a psychic awakening feel like?

I observe what people do, and I listen to what they say, and I search for patterns.
I am also deeply fascinated by the voices of madness and their relationship to the voices of spirit. How are they like and unlike each other, and do different cultures draw the line between them in different ways? What is it like to hear voices in your head, and how can we distinguish between spiritual growth and the need for psychiatric counseling?

When not doing research, I am in my garden with my dogs, who like to help me dig.

Photo Credits: Nikki Ross

In the Press