Real Presences: Catholic Prayer As Intersubjectivity

Praying in the Roman Catholic tradition takes place within networks of relationships on earth, and between heaven and earth. For Catholic men and women, supernatural figures are taken to be really, literally present in the everyday circumstances of their lives. In this portal, Robert Orsi presents a curated collection of resources for readers interested in the intersubjective nature of Catholic prayer, and what this tells us more generally about how religion is practiced today.

The Materiality Of Prayer

Formative debates within anthropology and religious studies can be seen as an attempt to isolate the practice of prayer from its material conduits. In this debut portal into our unfolding compendium of resources related to the study of prayer, Anderson Blanton resists the narrative of prayer as a history of abstraction. His collection of objects seeks to recuperate the old etymological resonances of prayer as a “bead,” as a gloss for both materiality and mechanized rhythms or repetitions.

Praying with the Senses

What does prayer sound, look, taste, and smell like? Can the person praying “feel” if the prayer is successful at establishing a connection to a divine interlocutor, or do all prayers feel the same? The Eastern branches of Christianity have an especially rich sensory culture of prayer, including not only the famous icons and chants, but also the smell and warmth of oil lamps and incense, the feel of prayer ropes or books. In this collection of essays and media curated by Sonja Luehrmann, seven researchers bring together images, recordings, and texts from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and North America to explore the sensory conditions for efficacious prayer in the “aesthetic formations” of Eastern Christianity.

Vinyl Prayers

Have you ever wanted to listen to songs and selections on vinyl that formally and/or affectively implore you to move against and beyond, to encounter an otherness that refuses reduction, to somehow, and miraculously, satisfy the desire to be someone or someplace else, at least for a moment? If so, then this portal, curated by John Modern, is for you. For in this virtual mix-tape of vinyl prayer, transgression and transcendence are the order of the day: in the harmonies, in the stentorian instruction, in the skips and confounds and glitches and snags that move from an initial sense of disruption to loop to loop to soothing predictability and perhaps a world in which beauty, truth, and reality are suspended as categorical imperatives, at least until you walk over and nudge the needle.

The Architecture of Multi-faith Prayer

When you stop to think about it, there is something sort of strange about the multi-faith chapels, buildings, and prayer rooms that form a familiar part of our contemporary institutional landscape. We find them in airports, hospitals, prisons, shopping malls, entertainment complexes, and universities. They include soaring architectural landmarks and simple rooms where design seems to be an afterthought at best. Unlike chapels, churches, synagogues, and mosques—all of which are designed for particular ritual activities and draw on or speak to specific theologies and religious histories—multi-faith spaces must make it possible for individuals or groups with diverse theologies, rituals, and symbols to pray. So, why does this not seem like an impossible task? Or rather, why does it appear to be a necessary one? In this portal, Courtney Bender explores how prayer is designed to happen and how it operates in these strange places and in our strange times.

Losing My Religion?

In March 2014, Diane Winston took her journalism class to India to cover the role of religion in the upcoming election. She had done similar trips before to Israel and Ireland, but this time wanted the students to have more than a fleeting encounter with the religion they were covering. The best option, she decided, was a long weekend at an ashram, where students could meditate, practice yoga, and listen to spiritual masters. The key was to take them outside of their comfort zones and into silence and stillness, trusting they would experience something visceral and perhaps even essential. She chose Ananda and Osho because they were both Westerner-friendly and close to Mumbai, where we would do our reporting. So, after flying twenty-plus hours from Los Angeles to Bombay and driving another six hours to Pune, she dropped half of the students at the rural Ananda retreat and alighted at Osho, an in-town urban oasis, with the rest.

Landscapes of Prayer: Islam, the Environment, and Java

In this four-part essay, Anna M. Gade presents new terrain for the dedication of traditional prayers in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, Indonesia. Comprising one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet with its vast forests and oceans, Indonesia also faces some of the most drastic global environmental challenges today. While prayers related to natural phenomena such as drought/rain and earthquakes are outlined in classical manuals of fiqh (jurisprudence), Muslim Indonesians now self-consciously recast older forms of devotional prayer (such as Arabic-language salawat and dhikr, often dedicated to the Prophet Muhammad) so that they are performed for the sake of environmental well-being.

Jewish Prayer

In this multi-layered portal, David Blumenthal asks: How does one write about God?

Part One, “Insights,” is composed of reflections on texts from the classic Jewish liturgy for weekdays, Shabbat, and holidays.

Part Two, “Thoughts,” provides an extended reflection on the theology underlying prayer.

Part Three is entitled “Meditations.” Each of its units is a “how to” piece, an instruction on how to pray, on what to have in mind as you recite selected texts from the liturgy.

Part Four, “Mystical Meditations,” also consists of “how to” pieces, instructions on how to pray selected prayers with zoharic intentionality.