United States

September 24, 2014

National Prayer Days: More Frequent, Less Passionate

I became interested in national prayer days after seeing that President Lincoln had called for national fasting, humiliation, and prayer at the beginning of the Civil War. I wanted to see if other presidents had issued such strongly religious calls and when they stopped doing so. After looking at every presidential prayer proclamation, from Washington to Obama, I wrote a 2,400-word piece. When I wasn’t able to find an outlet for such a long piece, I divided the material and published in The Dallas Morning News and on the website Patheos. Here’s an excerpt from The Dallas Morning News:

American presidents are proclaiming more national prayer days than ever before — three for 9/11 alone (Sept. 5-7 this year) — but as the number of prayer days has increased, the fervor of presidential prayer proclamations has cooled considerably. “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” has morphed into something closer to presidential renditions of kumbaya.

From Patheos:

President Abraham Lincoln’s 1861 call for a Day of National Humiliation, Prayer, and Fasting speaks to a worldview that has almost utterly vanished, a way of thinking that now exists only on the far outer fringes of public discourse. Lincoln demanded a brand of repentance so intense and humble that it went by the name of humiliation. He didn’t use the word figuratively. In his 1864 Thanksgiving proclamation, he advised Americans to “get down in the dust.”

July 2, 2014

Embodiment in Orthodox Prayer and Spirituality

This article is an extension of Connective Implications of the Material Holy, our essay on Orthodox material and sensory cultures that was published here on Reverberations last fall. Eastern Orthodox worship, prayer, and devotional activities are composed of sensory and material cultures that are deployed and employed through kinetic, embodied gestures and rituals, both vernacular and institutional. In other words, prayer and worship in the Orthodox Church are embodied. We understand embodiment as physical acts of engaging with ritual, liturgical, or holy items located in both the parish and the private domus (home), but also in the kinetic contouring of the body in ways that are both restrictive (i.e. rigorous fasting) and communal (i.e. ritual forgiveness).

We employ the term embodiment in a phenomenological and, to a slightly lesser extent, theological sense. Embodiment draws together the sensorial and the physical, highlighting the body as the locus of experience, while also pointing to the inclusion of the person within a larger network or system. Focusing on lived religion requires, according to Robert Orsi, an emphasis on embodied praxis in a variety of environments. Embodiment is crucial for understanding the devotional activities of Orthodox Christians since each devotee is an actor in the socio-religious drama that unfolds in both liturgical and community spaces. Orthodoxy itself proclaims that it possesses a living tradition and theology, which is embodied in believers and manifested through their actions, especially through prayer and spirituality. Thus, examining the physical worship practices of Orthodox adherents allows for a deeper understanding of lived Orthodox theology and beliefs.


May 8, 2014

Court Rules in Favor of Public Prayer in Town of Greece v Galloway

Taconic-prayingsymbol300x357.jpg (JPEG Image, 300 × 357 pixelIn November, Winifred Fallers Sullivan contributed an essay on a case that was being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court, The Town of Greece v. Galloway. At town meetings held in Greece, NY, an opening prayer was—and continues to be—common practice. While town officials claim that members of any faith would be welcome to give these opening prayers, the overwhelming majority of these prayers have been led by Christians, and many have drawn on explicitly sectarian references. Two town residents, one atheist and one Jewish, sued on the basis that the prayers “ran afoul of the First Amendment’s prohibition of government establishment of religion.”

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court handed down their ruling in Town of Greece v. Galloway, splitting 5-4 in favor of the town continuing to open its board meetings with prayer. It is interesting to note that the five justices in the majority decision are Catholic, while three of the four in the minority are Jewish. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority; Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the dissent. 

The New York Times provides an overview of the case and the majority and dissenting opinions, and writers at both Slate and The Economist have responded to the ruling.

March 21, 2014

NDSP Grantees in Readers Digest

In the April Issue of Readers Digest, an essay on “How and Why We Pray” quotes two NDSP grantees, Elizabeth Drescher and Tanya Luhrmann. The article, which takes a closer look at prayer practices in various communities around the United States, examines the ways in which prayer practices have evolved more recently. 

Prayer is ubiquitous in America because it’s so flexible and customizable. Says religion scholar Elizabeth Drescher, a faculty member at Santa Clara University in California, “Among the traditional religious practices, prayer allows the most individual autonomy and authority. That’s especially resonant in our culture, which values personal choice”…”Recently, we’ve been seeing a shift toward more informal but also more imaginative prayer,” says Tanya Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Indeed, if they were alive today, pontiffs of the past would no doubt have been confused and amused by one of the first official actions of Pope Francis.

The author, Lise Funderberg, references the ways that media influence has changed prayer—from a congregation in San Francisco writing prayers in chalk on the sidewalk, to Pope Francis’ first tweets, days after ascending to the papacy, to what is perhaps most ubiquitous nowadays, people using Facebook to ask for prayers and to pray together. 

Read the full piece here

November 19, 2013

Re-Creation, “I Believe in Music” (n.d.)

Re-Creation is a non-profit organization founded in 1976 by Hugh Brooks in State College, Pennsylvania. As Re-Creation’s website exclaims, its “main service is to America’s Veterans Affairs Medical Centers and State Veterans Homes. For 30 years, Re-Creation has provided the only continuing, live, therapeutic entertainment presence in our nation’s VA Medical Centers!” Re-Creation is a band with a revolving cast. And it sees itself as answering both a religious and patriotic call.

The strangeness of this particular Re-Creation album (The 5th Edition) goes beyond the costumes and the bypass of the separation clause. It even goes beyond their pious/profane mix—“Olivia Newton-John Medley of Hits” subtitled “Verve and Velvet.”


June 17, 2013

Recorded Prayer and the Work of Prayerful Audition

“Let us attend!” This is the familiar, urgent instruction directed to all those present in Orthodox Christian liturgy—a call to focus the mind, direct the heart, and attune the senses to what is coming. It is an instruction rooted in the dynamics of collective and individual prayer in the Orthodox Church where, as many scholars and practitioners emphasize, there is not a tradition of extemporaneous prayer. Ideally, one uses familiar formulae to ask for what one has already received—God’s mercy, for instance—or follows the prototype of Jesus Christ by praying the Lord’s Prayer.

When Orthodox Christians attend to prayer, they are often led by the voices of those reciting from a service or prayer book or singing specific hymns. Performance and memory come together in the texts of prayer to create effective continuity between praying and prayerful audition. In the Orthodox tradition, texts mediate between those who give voice to prayer in a pastoral role—clergy, readers, and singers—and those who attend to prayer as listeners. As these two images suggest, such mediation can extend beyond the time and place of services to recordings of prayer that circulate through physical media and online. Orthodox Christians encounter and interact with these media­­ as additional ways of attending to prayer through technologies of prayerful audition.

In recent conversations at an Orthodox seminary in the United States, one person likened this kind of attentive, efficacious listening to another technology of Orthodox prayer—the prayer rope (a knotted rope customarily used to count repetitions of the Jesus Prayer):

Just like in church, you’ll have the deacon or the choir leading you in prayer that you all know, and somehow in this way it’s awakening that in you, it’s almost strengthening it in you, so having such a prayer recorded is a goad for you to actually be doing it, almost like a prayer rope is reminding you that this is what you’re doing right now. It’s a very helpful thing. It’s a way to keep your feet on the pedals, and you know you’re riding the bike now.

Others spoke concretely about the context of these listening practices and their relation to prayer as mediated in Orthodox services:

If you are using a recording as a means of prayer then, like all prayer, it must have your undivided attention. Maybe if you know the route well, you can listen while driving, if driving isn’t going to require too much of your thought, and I know many families where, when they go to church on Sunday morning, one of the family members reads the Communion Prayers to the others in the car. So if you can do that, and you’re driving by yourself, so long as you are engaging the CD with your mind and heart to make the words that you’re hearing your own words, the way that you would when you listen to a reader reading the prayers in church, you’re making those words—even though they’re not physically coming out of your mouth—you’re making them your own words.

There is the potential in Orthodox Christianity to attend to prayer by recontextualizing recordings through the kind of intent listening to pastoral leading described above. Although these technologies of prayer might seem novel in the Orthodox tradition, many were quick to point to their connection to the theology of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 where the body of Christ is composed of individual members, each sensorially attuned to the other so that when one suffers, all suffer, and when one is honored, all rejoice. Some members of the body give voice to prayer, while others make that voice their own through the work of prayerful audition.

March 7, 2013

Upcoming Talk at UC Berkeley on Ethical Practices of ‘Nones’

Elizabeth DrescherI will be sharing early insights from my research on the spiritual lives of the religiously unaffiliated—Nones—at a forum sponsored by the University of California, Berkeley’s Religion, Politics & Globalization Program on March 13. Drawing on interviews and narrative surveys with self-identified Nones across the United States, I will discuss how Nones articulate the ideologies, philosophies, and values that they understand as shaping their day-to-day ethical practices. The talk will consider the ways in which the resources that Nones see as significant in their ethical formation and practice mark shifts in the wider ethical ethos in the United States. 

February 26, 2013

Prayer Cloths, or, the Materiality of Divine Communication

Small remnants of sacred fabric known as prayer cloths are among the most important devotional objects in the Pentecostal tradition. Despite the widespread use of these healing and apotropaic objects, however, there is a remarkable lack of published scholarship on this phenomenon within the fields of religious studies, folklore, and anthropology. Articulating the relationship between oral performances of group prayer and individual sensations of tactility, Prayer Cloths, or, the Materiality of Divine Communication will track the manufacture and exchange of these prayer-objects as they circulate among four independent Pentecostal church communities in northwestern Virginia. Situated within the “Prayer in Social and Institutional Contexts” research theme, my ethnographic work describes and theorizes the relationship between the performance of group prayer and the solidification and maintenance of the communal fabric through the circulation and manipulation of devotional objects. Focusing on the role of the materially mediating object in experiences of divine communication, my work will yield new models of a religiosity typically associated with interiority, spirituality, and individuality. Against such associations, whether religious self-definitions or anthropological theories, I will demonstrate just how profoundly inextricable are these performances of prayer from the exterior objects within which believers sense the opening of communicative relays between the everyday and the sacred. Tracking the movements of these materialized prayers, my research will articulate the way these devotional fabrics link the individual to more expansive networks of communal prayer and sensations of divine presence. During the early twentieth century, classic accounts of prayer in the fields of ethnology and religious studies predicted that the communal performance of prayer would undergo a progressive interiorization until it became a purely intellectual act within the silent recesses of the religious subject. Marking a significant departure from assumptions organizing the academic study of prayer, my exploration into the materiality of religious presence articulates the history and contemporary practice of Pentecostal and charismatic Christian prayer through its progressive exteriorizations enabled by material objects and media technologies. Describing the prostheses of prayer in the late modern world, my project makes explicit the way material objects and technologies enable specific sensations of sacred immediacy, and in so doing marks a new contribution to a growing body of scholarship on sensory formation in experiences of healing, conversion, and transcendence. Like the discernment of an excessive presence that subsists just beyond the boundaries of everyday perception, my project describes the production of ecstatic sensations at the interface of the assumed everyday capacities of the body and its technological extensions and material supplementations.

February 26, 2013

Hammering the Devil with Prayer (Prayer to Relieve Affliction from Evil Spirits)

This project is a comparative ethnographic study of Roman Catholic prayer for exorcism, a form of ritual healing prayer performed by a priest and the aim of which is relief from affliction by evil spirits. Insofar as exorcism is an institutionally sanctioned form of prayer practiced in culturally diverse settings throughout the Catholic world, the project addresses the nature prayer in social and institutional contexts and comparative perspectives on prayer. Insofar as it is a form of prayer concerned with counteracting the debilitating force of evil understood as an obstacle to spiritual life, the project also addresses the contribution of prayer to virtue, human flourishing, moral development, and ethical formation. 

The study begins with the observation that exorcism is not only a form of religious practice but also a dynamic social phenomenon. My approach is defined by explicit attention to the intimately intertwined relation between the concrete experiences of social actors and the broader cultural processes and social forces in which they are embedded. Specifically, exorcism prayer can be understood both experientially in terms of the therapeutic process put into play by the practice of ritual healing as an attempt to promote flourishing, and institutionally in terms of the religio-political stance established in the face of global cultural processes in social context. This approach is the basis for two interrelated propositions: 1) Exorcism prayer articulates a conservative world view and a discourse of evil at large in contemporary society framed by processes of globalization including migration, mobility, missionization, and mediatization; 2) Exorcism prayer can be genuinely therapeutic if it fulfills all four criteria of a rhetorical model of therapeutic process in ritual healing including disposition, experience of the sacred, elaboration of alternatives, and actualization of change.

The research centers on ethnographic comparison of exorcism prayer in the United States and Italy. Italy is the center of the Catholic world and the United States is the home of a globally influential Catholic community, with vivid social and cultural contrasts between them. My methods include ethnographic interviews and observations with exorcists, their clinical mental health consultants, and persons for whom they pray, as well as observations of training methods in exorcism prayer and examination of relevant published literature.

The intellectual merit of the study lies in its contribution to the social science literature on two primary areas: 1) the nature of experience and trajectory of therapeutic process in healing prayer, and 2) the manner in which prayer articulates the relation of religion and globalization in contemporary society. The study’s broader impact will be 1) in providing an example of the intertwined relation between two levels of analysis, namely the concrete experience of social actors and the broader cultural processes and social forces in which they are embedded, and 2) in contributing to understanding the social implications and consequences of the discourse of evil in contemporary society.

February 26, 2013

Praying Between the Lines: The Prayer Practices of 'Religious Nones'

Two recent trends introduce new questions about the practice and meaning of prayer in the lives of contemporary believers. One is the dramatic growth in the population of believers who do not specifically identify or affiliate with institutional religions—so-called “Nones,” who answer “none” or “no religion” when asked with what religious group they identify. The majority of Nones believe in God and maintain some measure of religious or spiritual practice, within and beyond institutional religions. The majority were raised as Christians, and many attend church services and participate in denominational communities to varying degrees.

The lines that religious Nones cross in their spiritual lives are many, and the “in between” they frequently create and inhabit stands as new territory for religion more broadly. While frequently labeled “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR), religious Nones often resist this identification, preferring to locate their religious and spiritual identities not in traditional sociological categories of “believing, belonging, and behaving,” but rather in a more diffuse notion of “being” that understands spiritual and religious beliefs and practices as deeply and holistically integrated into everyday life. Thus, activities such as enjoying time with pets, family members, and friends; enjoying the outdoors and the arts; and preparing and sharing food take on considerable spiritual significance for many Nones as they understand their lives and the world in which they live as holy, as inherently religious and spiritual. Within this emerging lived religious configuration, my preliminary research with Nones indentifies prayer as the only traditional religious practice that continues to be seen as spiritually meaningful.

A second trend intersects with what Newsweek has described as this “rise of the Nones.” Recent changes to cultural and social life associated with digital social media invite new configurations of traditional practices such as pastoral care, religious formation and education, social witness, prayer, and worship in both online and offline locales. Digital social media encourage collaboration, content-mixing, and the distribution of authority in ways that draw upon, reconfigure, extend, and challenge traditional religious structures and practices.

Within the matrix of religious and spiritual practices subject to digitally-integrated appropriation, prayer is particularly central. Facebook pages focusing on prayer are among the most popular and engaging on the platform, and prayer activity is a robust substratum of activity on Twitter across religious traditions and ideologies. Likewise, hundreds of smartphone and tablet computer apps have been developed in the past five years to support the prayer practices of believers, seekers, and skeptics alike. For people seeking to enhance traditional institutional religious participation or to avoid it entirely, new media platforms offer a wide range of tools as well as opportunities to connect with others of similar or widely differing outlooks.

Together, these trends can be seen to extend, adapt, and change the meaning of prayer for believers within and outside of institutional religions. “Praying Between the Lines,” then, will explore how the prayer is unfolding as a social, cultural, and spiritual practice today. The focus of the project will be on religious Nones, engaging the range of activities that they define as “prayer,” both in offline and online contexts. Through one-on-one interviews and focus groups, the project will invite religious Nones to share their own understanding of the meaning and significance of prayer in their lives generally and in an increasingly digitally-integrated culture.

February 26, 2013

Do Different Understandings of the Mind Affect the Experience of Prayer?

This proposal tests the hypothesis that different “theories” of mind will shape the way prayer practice is experienced and the kind of spiritual experience with which it is associated. The project director has done many years of ethnographic and experimental research on prayer and spiritual experience within a gently charismatic evangelical congregation in the United States and identified specific patterns of interpretation, proclivity, and practice consequence associated with kataphatic, or imagination-rich, prayer. In this prayer practice, people conduct unscripted conversations with God in their imaginations. The aim of this new project is to compare the experiences of congregants in similar churches in India and Africa to ask whether the patterns observed in the American context differ systematically in the non-American contexts. More specifically, the project asks:

1. How do congregants in three culturally disparate settings represent the aim and experience of these imaginal dialogues and other imagination-rich prayer practices?

2. What specific spiritual experiences (for example, the audible voice of God; tongues; out of body phenomena; etc) do congregants in these three culturally disparate settings recognize, elaborate and report?

3. Do congregants in India and Africa who report more prayer practice, more spiritual experience, or more vivid interactions with God also score more highly in ‘absorption,’ as American congregants do?

4. Do any differences reflect differences in local ‘theories’ of mind?

Objectives and methods:

Over the two year course of the project I intend to spend two months in each field setting. In each setting I plan to collect thirty interviews about prayer and spiritual experience from members of a denomination with which I have done extensive work in the United States and rich ethnographic material about the congregations. I expect that the pastors will be English speaking, that may congregants will speak English and that some services will be conducted in English, although not all. I also intend to conduct ethnographic interviews around the church and to hire a research assistant either from the church, or willing to spend time in the church, who will attend church services, keep me apprised of what is happening in the church and with people whom I interview. The field assistant may also conduct additional interviews in a language other than English. Finally, I intend to develop a model of the local theory of mind, drawing on published ethnography, conversations with colleagues, and specific probes among interview subjects and others. I anticipate doing twenty ‘theory of mind’ interviews among congregants and non-congregants to confirm the observations developed through reading the ethnography and discussing the material with colleagues.

Intellectual significance and broader impact:

Much psychological work on prayer tends to presume that the effects of prayer are independent of social context. This project starts with prior work that demonstrates psychological consequences to prayer practice, but provides a means to explore and to theoretically conceptualize the ways that the spiritual consequences of similar prayer practices may differ across cultural boundaries.

I have just published a book which demonstrates a capacity to speak to scholars and scientists, to Christians, and to the secular world. I am hopeful that I will be able to engage a similar range of audience with the material from this study, with publications both in scientific articles and in book form. Such a book will bring to public attention the importance of studying prayer as a complex phenomenon, one with cognitive consequences shaped both by the brain’s capacity and by culture’s invitation.

February 26, 2013

Prayer Machines: Case Studies in a Secular Age

My project examines the profound effect that technological forms (material, conceptual, linguistic, epistemic) have had, and continue to have, on the practice and study of prayer. My project addresses: 1) social and technological contexts in and through which prayer has been represented, 2) the relationship between these contexts, these representations, and the dynamics of the secular age, and 3) the use of machines to measure one’s prayers and the prayers of others. Chapter topics include the mechanization of prayer in recent American history; the institutional and technological contexts that have shaped the Catholic practice of the rosary in the second half of the twentieth century; the use of the E-meter among Scientologists as a self-conscious displacement of prayer; and brain-imaging machines currently utilized in cognitive inquiries into religion.

My project is a blend of two scholarly genres—1) genealogical excavation of the mechanization of prayer and 2) thick description of three sites of mechanical interface where the discourse of prayer becomes operational. Through historical documentation and case studies I will address how prayer is constructed, what social and political factors contribute to these constructions, how these constructions change over time, and how these constructions compare with one another.

In addition to the relationship between prayer and technology my project addresses larger questions concerning the secular age—its emergence, its maintenance, its tensions and contradictions. If, as Charles Taylor argues, the secular age is marked by a notion of choice—a necessary stance one must take vis-à-vis the religious, then a pressing line of inquiry revolves around the question of what conditions the possibilities of such choices being made in the first place. Consequently, the secular age must be understood in light of that conditioning and those possibilities and the effects that such necessary stances generate. Consequently, my project on prayer machines will engage ongoing debates about secularism. Secularism refers, here, to those processes by which the truth and falsity of religion become charged with meaning and affect and how those charges, in turn, precipitate epistemic and political practices. Such processes exceed the boundaries of any single tradition of prayer—be it confessional practice of or scientific discourse about. To this end, my project will identify discursive threads that connect living traditions of prayer—conservative and liberal Protestantisms, Catholic sacramentalisms, new religious movements, medical and scientific considerations of prayer, and the amorphous modes of spirituality that have emerged over the past century.

Activities during the grant period range from the collection and analysis of twentieth-century prayer ephemera and the systematic study of the arguments of cognitive science to hands-on experiments with the E-meter and field visits to working laboratories in Philadelphia, Boston, and Copenhagen. My emphasis on the mechanization of prayer across different confessional traditions as well as beyond them will: 1) initiate a new direction in the study of prayer by reconsidering questions of technic and agency, 2) reconsider the content of American religious history by foregrounding the role technological intimacy plays in constructions of religious experience, and 3) contribute to discussions about how technological forms structure the human sensorium and effect broader cultural fields.

February 26, 2013

From Surviving to Thriving: Religion, Spirituality, and Prayer among Adults Sexually Abused as Children by Priests

Co-Principal Investigator is Terence Mckiernan.

I propose to study the religious/spiritual histories of adult Catholic survivors of clerical sexual abuse with a view toward understanding the role of prayer in their efforts to reclaim their lives from destruction and alienation. The most disastrous consequences of abuse included a radically diminished self-image; persistent feelings of shame; a perceived loss of agency; a corrosive and objectless anger; pervasive anxiety; self-abuse (with drugs, alcohol, violence, and destructive sexuality); relational failure and social isolation. The project explores the extent to which prayer and praying played a role in restoring survivors to themselves and to their worlds (in the process remaking both themselves and the world). What makes these questions so vexed in this context is that the abuse of children by priests was always religious in nature. Survivors were profoundly hurt in that area of their lives from which they might have drawn the deepest sustenance. Prayer and praying contributed to survivors’ flourishing, but this often entailed great internal struggle with God (in the various forms God assumed for survivors over time), with their inherited and embodied Catholic imaginary, and with their circle of significant relationships (on earth and in heaven). Survivors first needed to restore a capacity for praying that had been effectively taken from them by their abuse. They invented or improvised new hybrid ways of praying to replace the ones lost to abuse, sometimes by reworking childhood prayer practices, but just as often looking beyond Catholicism to spiritual sources available on the wider American religious landscape. Survivors prayed in communities of survivors, with prayer serving to organize and empower a counterpublic that prayed together while seeking justice and recognition from other Catholics and from the church, creating a prayerful practice of redress. The project approaches prayer in its full polyvalence, including prayers that are retributive and condemnatory. I am in the process of establishing a network of contacts among survivors in Chicago and around the country, among those who remain in some relation to Catholicism and those who have more or less rejected it. I will establish field sites in four dioceses with the help of Victim Advocates, a diocesan office mandated in 2002 by the American bishops, as I work with survivors in Chicago and nearby cities who are for the most part unaffiliated with the church. Initial conversations with survivors will be by telephone, e-mail, and Skype (if they are outside of Chicago), in person locally, and I will work from a list of questions prepared with the assistance of survivors as a starting point. I will follow these with more open-ended conversations in person, which will be recorded (and eventually transcribed by a bonded transcription service). The focus throughout will be on survivors’ evolving life stories, with special attention to their prayer practices over time, their relationship to the ways of praying they inherited and those they have chosen or created as adults, in order to understand prayer’s contribution to the restoration of their confidence, happiness, relationships, and social and moral connectedness. The project looks at lived prayer practices in a religiously perverse context, in which the resources and figures victims may have called on for help were turned against them. Nonreductively it takes praying as the medium by which people engage supernatural figures and realities they understand to be really real and efficacious. The broader impact of the project is that given the number of survivors, the social consequences of the deep and lasting pain of abuse, the impact of the crisis on Catholicism and on the reputation of institutional religion, the project addresses matters of wide-reaching public import.

February 26, 2013

The Role of Prayer in the Development of Religious Cognitions

Co-Principal Investigator is Nicholas Shaman.

Children’s religious concepts undergo significant transitions during the preschool years. Their understanding of ritual actions, God, and supernatural causality undergo qualitative shifts. Despite the dynamic nature of development during these years, little research has examined the cultural factors that contribute to preschool-aged children’s understanding of religious activities, like prayer. The proposed research is significant for advancing knowledge of how children’s understanding of and experience with prayer can shape their religious experiences and understanding. The guiding hypothesis of the project is children’s learning about and conceptions of prayer influence and is influenced by children’s understanding of religious entities and supernatural causality. The specific aim is to examine if differences in exposure to, understanding of, and participation in prayer are related to individual differences in the development of religious concepts during the preschool years.

The proposed research method will be a cross-sectional study conducted with children in the preschool years, which mark a transition period in the development of children’s religious cognition. Parent-child dyads, representing Catholic, Evangelical Christian, and Reform Jewish religious traditions, will participate in a one-time visit to the Childhood Cognition Laboratory at UC Riverside. Children will be between the ages of 3.5 and 5. The visit will be divided into two segments: parent survey/child interview and parent-child interaction. Children’s and parents’ concepts of God, supernatural causality, and prayer will be assessed through separate interviews with trained researchers. The measures will assess how children and parents attribute anthropomorphic attributes to God, how children and parents judge the possible occurrence of impossible events, and how children and parents view the purpose of the actions of prayer. Analyses will involve correlating these measures with one another as well as with aspects of the parent-child interactions. A long-term goal of this program of research is to increase awareness of different prayer practices as well as further understanding about the influence of different prayer practices on development.