Within the frame of secular modernity, religion has become something in need of measured explanation, something that is either at odds or consistent with the natural state of humanity. Prayer, as a fortifier of belief, has come to mark the religiosity of a shared human experience, for better or for worse. For practitioners and scholars, promoters and critics, prayer often distills something essential about religion. The measurement of prayer corresponds to its drift inward, into the mind and the nervous system, in general.
Cognitive studies of prayer, for example, are rather pervasive these days. Such studies often serve to articulate a boundary between the religious and the secular as either quite stark or else rather porous. In either case, the religious is being measured, constructed, and deployed.
The significance of these studies, I contend, lies in the ways in which they manufacture religion, study after study, regardless of results, turning religion into a measurable and natural matter. Your prayer-life, or lack thereof, is a mark of your individuality in the secular age. Do you pray? Did you used to pray? Do you want to pray? Are you interested in prayer?
What goes without saying, here, is the differential between self and other, inside and out, articulated at the level of cognition. It is my hunch that this evolving differential vis-à-vis prayer sheds light upon how a sense of freedom is secured within a secular age. For it is this differential that assumes a self who acts upon, or at the very least who chooses, his cultural resources—a self who prays to something or for someone, a self whose prayers are efficacious or not, a self who studies, with the authority of empirical data, the prayers of others.
What does the desire to measure prayer have to do with that representative self of the secular age—buffered, disenchanted, willfully striving for fullness? How does taking the measure of prayer catalyze the thrill of solitude, the sense of deep protection, and vertiginous permission to calculate? Or as Max Weber once asked his audience of the scientifically-inclined, “Why does one engage in doing something that in reality never comes, and never can come, to an end?”