Co-Principal Investigator is Mark Taylor.
Columbia University’s Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life (IRCPL) will produce three one-hour national public radio programs on prayer, as part of its media project “Rethinking Religion.” “Rethinking Religion” brings together religious leaders, practitioners, cultural figures, policy makers, journalists, and research scholars to reflect on the roles, places, and forms of religion. Its programs are distributed via diverse media platforms, including terrestrial and online public radio, Internet podcasts on iTunes University, and Web sites such as IRCPL.ORG. There, users can find several versions of these programs, including unedited soundtracks, radio programs, transcripts, and summary podcasts. With religion at the cornerstone, these episodes have explored social justice and humanitarian issues such as the efficacy of international aid, the ethics of torture, and the use of social media in democratic protests in the Middle East. Most recently, we produced “The Harlem Renaissance: Music, Religion, and the Politics of Race,” a two-hour radio program on the connection between music, religion, and spirituality during the Harlem Renaissance. This three-hour radio series is unique for engaging both practitioners and scholars of religion to create a dialogue necessary for an informed public discussion on the role of prayer in people’s lives. Bringing together interviews with scholars, professionals, and clergy members with archival audio, the series is unique in its diverse approach to understanding what prayer is and the roles it plays. We have framed our discussions of prayer broadly to include the Jesus prayer, Islamic prayer, transcendental meditation, and individual and group prayer practices aimed at healing trauma and addiction. The first episode, “Prayer and Trauma,” will explore the role prayer plays in the lives of people who have experienced abuse or extreme trauma. “The Jesus Prayer: An Ancient Christian Prayer in the Context of Community,” our second episode, utilizes a vast collection of existing ethnographic field studies recorded at the world’s oldest, active monasteries and hermitages in Egypt, Mt. Sinai, Mt. Athos, Greece, Romania, and Russia, to bring the virtually unknown Jesus Prayer and the ancient practice of hesychia (silence and stillness) to American audiences. Finally, “Islamic Prayer: Body, Community, and Spirit” will investigate the role prayer plays in the lives of Muslims, as individuals and as a community from phenomenological, historical, and theological perspectives. While much of our series is focused on ritualized forms of prayer, careful attention will also be paid to ways in which individuals pray spontaneously and independently. In doing so, we hope to foster interdisciplinary public discussions on the plurality and diversity of prayer practices in American life. The goals of this project are to enhance and educate the general public on new definitions, methodologies, and experiences of prayer, as well as the origins and practices of traditional prayer. We are interested in the role intercessional prayer plays in forming communities; how beliefs and values influence actions and interactions via individual and shared prayer; and how the human ego manifests in creativity, compassion, altruism, and social justice through use of objectified and non-objectified prayer. The Principal Investigators of this media project are Mark C. Taylor, Norris J. Chumley, and Chelsea Ebin. Mark C. Taylor, chair of the Religion Department at Columbia University and director the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life, oversees all of the IRCPL’s media projects. Norris J. Chumley, media director of IRCPL, is executive producer and host of the radio series “Rethinking Religion.” Chelsea Ebin is an assistant director of IRCPL and managing editor of “Rethinking Religion.”