In January of this year, the speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives forwarded an email message urging supporters to “Pray for Obama: Psalm 109.8.” That scripture reads, “May his days be few; may another take his office,” and was in fact “praying against” Obama. This project seeks to understand what I term “aggressive prayer,” prayer that aims to impose the speaker’s will onto another party or series of events. Such imprecatory prayer and warfare prayer rituals are on the rise in various strands of contemporary charismatic Christianity. I will compare aggressive Christian prayer with malediction (speaking evil) in Haitian Vodou, a tradition famous for its association with imprecatory prayer, and one that Christian prayer warriors, in turn, “pray against.” With attention to the militarized discourses and performances of aggressive prayer, this study will explore the articulations between Christian and non-Christian aggressive prayer and the militarization of culture in the Americas more generally.
This project promises to shed new light on a growing phenomenon that is under-researched and not yet understood: the ways imprecatory and aggressive prayer is practiced in the contemporary moment. A rigorous understanding of the rise of negative prayer—and its introduction into the public sphere, by democratically elected American officials, no less—begs for investigation. Working primarily through ethnographic field research and related methods, this comparative study of imprecatory prayer, spirit-filled Christian warfare prayer, and malevolent Vodou prayer will reveal new knowledge about the uses (and perhaps abuses) of prayer. This study will trace the connections between these forms of aggressive prayer as they are taken up in transnational (and global) networks, and examine their rise within the culture of militarism emanating from the US and spreading throughout the Americas and beyond.
The project aims to link small-scale group practices of prayer with larger historical processes of transnationalism, globalization, and militarization. It aims to examine an emerging ideology of prayer, its dissemination between North and South, and the way religious actors are using negative “warfare prayer” in the contemporary historical moment. I will examine how longstanding American norms in both religion and politics are changing, and how it is that a practice long considered a heresy—using scripture to pray against another—is now openly practiced by public leaders in the US and elsewhere. A careful rendering of this phenomenon within the context of politics, humanitarian missions, and military engagements of the US is an approach to recent history that will yield knowledge about the links between the experiences of individual people and their prayer practices with global-scale processes usually associated with national security. It will add to our understanding of how prayer practices are articulated with large-scale social forces such as globalization and transnationalism, technological innovation, and the rise of digital technology.