A Conference on New Directions in the Study of Prayer

February 6 & 7, 2015
Italian Academy, Columbia University, New York, NY

What can the study of prayer tell us about social life, religious institutions and practices, ethical self-formation, and our concepts of communication, both shared and unique? The Social Science Research Council’s Program on Religion and the Public Sphere announces Why Prayer? A Conference on New Directions in the Study of Prayer, a two-day gathering that will showcase the work of over 30 scholars and journalists who have explored these questions and more.

Please join us February 6-7, 2015, for panels and presentations on topics including religious technologies, embodiment, material culture, language, politics, and the mind. Beginning Friday afternoon, the conference will also feature the Prayer Expo—a pop-up installation of multi-media presentations and material objects that call attention to the myriad representations of prayer shaping discourse and practice. On Saturday, two plenary events will highlight the multiple registers of engagement occasioned by new, transdisciplinary research on the practice of prayer.

Register Here

[download full schedule]

9:45 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.
Prayer Machines

Anderson Blanton, Max Planck Institute, Göttingen
Leor Halevi, Vanderbilt University
John Modern, Franklin and Marshall College
Discussant: Fabio Rambelli, University of California, Santa Barbara
Moderator: Charles Hirschkind, University of California, Berkeley

Prayer and Embodiment

Mark Aveyard, American University of Sharjah
Tom Csordas, University of California, San Diego
Don Seeman, Emory University
Discussant: Kevin Ladd, Indiana University South Bend
Moderator: Courtney Bender

11:30 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Covering Prayer
A Roundtable on Religion Journalism
Moderated by: Sam Freedman, Columbia University and The New York Times

Peter Manseau, independent journalist
Emma-Kate Symons, independent journalist
Christine Wicker, independent journalist
Introduction: Diane Winston, University of Southern California

Prayer and the Political I

Parvis Ghassem-Fachandi, Rutgers University
Sonja Luehrmann, Simon Fraser University
Sanal Mohan, Mahatma Gandhi University
Fareen Parvez, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Discussant: Matthew Engelke, London School of Economics
Moderator: Peter van der Veer, Max Planck Institute, Göttingen

1:15 p.m. – 3:15 p.m.
Prayer Expo

An exhibit of prayer-centric material artifacts and multimedia presentations.

Film Screening (begins at 1:45 p.m.)
And All God’s People Said…

Savitri Medhatul, Filmmaker

3:15 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Prayer Lab
A Roundtable on the Psychology of Prayer Moderated by Paul Bloom, Yale University

Shira Gabriel, State University of New York, Buffalo
Charles Hirschkind, University of California, Berkeley
Tanya Luhrmann, Stanford University
Introduction: Hazel Markus, Stanford University


9:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Prayer and the Political II

Ruth Marshall, University of Toronto
Elizabeth McAlister, Wesleyan University
Ebenezer Obadare, University of Kansas
Discussant: Matthew Engelke, London School of Economics
Moderator: Peter van der Veer, Max Planck Institute, Göttingen

Theoretical Expansions and Relationships

Fenella Cannell, London School of Economics
Sam Gill, University of Colorado Boulder
Anna Gade, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Discussant: Marion Katz, New York University & Institute for Advanced Study
Moderator: Courtney Bender, Columbia University

11:15 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
PLENARY: Why Prayer?
A Roundtable Moderated by Robert Wright, journalist and author

Ebenezer Obadare, University of Kansas
Robert Orsi, Northwestern University
Rebekah Richert, University of California, Riverside
Stephen Teiser, Princeton University
Introduction: Birgit Meyer, Utrecht University

2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Honing the Sensorium in Individual and Collective Prayer: Case Studies from Eastern Orthodox Christianity

Daria Dubovka, European University at St. Petersburg
Jeffers Engelhardt, Amherst College
Jeanne Kormina, Higher School of Economics, St. Petersburg
Vlad Naumescu, Central European University
Simion Pop, Central European University
Discussant: Birgit Meyer, Utrecht University

New Frames of Prayer and Sociality

Elizabeth Drescher, Santa Clara University
Jeremy Ginges, New School for Social Research
Nicholas Harkness, Harvard University
Discussant: Kevin Ladd, Indiana University South Bend
Moderator: Hazel Markus, Stanford University

3:45 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
PLENARY: Old Questions, New Answers

Courtney Bender, Columbia University
Souleymane Bachir Diagne, Columbia University
Kathryn Lofton, Yale University



Presented by the Social Science Research Council, Program on Religion and the Public Sphere,
and the following Columbia University co-sponsors: the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life (IRCPL); the Middle East Institute;
the department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (MESAAS); and the departments Anthropology and Psychology.


You can find more information about the NDSP program here or by emailing us