March 5, 2021

When Jurors Talk to God: A Conversation w/ Tanya M. Luhrmann & Malcolm E. Whittaker

Aaron Freiwald, Managing Partner of Freiwald Law and host of the weekly podcast, Good Law | Bad Law, is joined by Houston attorney, Malcolm E. Whittaker, and Stanford Anthropology Professor, Tanya M. Luhrmann to discuss religious belief systems, human judgment and evaluation, communicating with God, and how all of these notions relate to the criminal trial of the United States v. Brown and one juror’s early dismissal. What does it mean to pray to God in the context of jury deliberations? What does it mean in general to “have a conversation with God”?


In today’s episode, Aaron, Malcolm, and Tanya have a nuanced and highly complex theoretical discussion about the challenges and questions that arose recently in a criminal trial in which a judge dismissed a juror after he was overheard saying that he is communicating with “a higher power.” In the case of United States v. Brown, juror 13 was excused after the judge believed he was not deliberating. Was the judge wrong? Tanya and Malcolm explain why they believe the judge acted too quickly in this decision, not asking all of the right questions before making a ruling; considering that this judgment may be applicable to millions of Americans and their jury responsibility/services, Aaron, Tanya, and Malcolm breakdown whether or not communicating with God is a bias and what exactly this may mean in terms of jury instruction. Throughout today’s conversation, Aaron poses three hypothetical scenarios to Tanya and Malcolm, the three of them try to understand what is meant when someone “hears God,” Professor Luhrmann discusses her fieldwork observations, her research in psychosis and social worlds, as well as how these ideas relate to jury obligations, prayer/praying, and much more.


Dr. Tanya Marie Luhrmann is, in her own words, “an anthropologist studying the mind.” A graduate of both Harvard (B.A.) and the University of Cambridge (M. Phil and Ph.D.), she is the Watkins University Professor in the Stanford Anthropology Department. Professor Luhrmann’s research interests include medical and psychological anthropology, the anthropology of religion, subjectivity, comparative phenomenology, voices and visions, psychosis, spirituality, mixed methods, and public anthropology. She sets out to understand the way people represent thought itself, and the way those culturally varied representations shape the most intimate experience of life itself. Dr. Luhrmann has done ethnography on the streets of Chicago with homeless and psychotic women, worked with people who hear voices in Chennai, Accra and the South Bay. She has also done fieldwork with evangelical Christians who seek to hear God speak back, with Zoroastrians who set out to create a more mystical faith, and with people who practice magic. Professor Luhrmann was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003 and received a John Guggenheim Fellowship award in 2007.


Malcolm E. Whittaker is primarily a patent attorney in Houston, Texas at the Whittaker Law Firm.


Listen now!


To learn more about Professor Luhrmann, and to view more of her publications, please visit her bio page here. More information is also available on Professor’s Luhrmann’s personal website.

To check out Professor Luhrmann’s book, When God talks back: understanding the American evangelical relationship with God, please click here.

To review the brief Mr. Whittaker and Professor Luhrmann filed, please click here.


Host: Aaron Freiwald

Guests: Malcolm E. Whittaker and Tanya M. Luhrmann



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