Monday, March 31, 2014

How Many People Pray? (PrayerLife)

First Congregational Church, Detroit
I've been slow-reading through Bernard Spilka and Kevin Ladd's excellent The Psychology of Prayer: A Scientific Approach. See reviews of this book below. This is necessary reading for anyone who wants to study the phenomenon of prayer.

How many people pray? Spilka and Ladd write:

"The General Social Survey’s analysis of national data from 1972 to 2006 suggests that as many as 97% of Americans pray, and some 57% indicate that they pray one or more times each day (General Social Survey, 2008). Laird (1991) reported on a Princeton University survey that found “74% of men and 86% of women rely on prayer when faced with a problem” (p. 22). If we accept Clark’s (1958) positing of secret religion as one we keep to ourselves, numerous prayers probably go unreported. The central place of prayer in life, personally and socially, conveys clearly why there is a need to understand theory and research in this area. Wuthnow (2008a) further asserts that “far more Americans pray than engage in other religious activities” (p. 334), including any other private or public religious behavior." (p. 3)

What I make of this is:

  • Prayer is mostly accepted as efficacious by Americans. That is, there is a God, to whom we can communicate.
  • This empirical fact can provide the needed spark to touch off prayer movements that issue forth in people who have praying lives (different from mostly praying when facing a problem).
The General Social Survey Spilka and Ladd refer to also showed that, as odd as it sounds, "some atheists are willing to admit that they pray." (K 43) Recently a former atheist told me of a time he prayed, out of desperation. And the God he did not believe in clearly (to him) did a miracle (his own words) and answered his prayer.


Editorial Reviews


"Kudos to Spilka and Ladd--two premier scientific explorers of the human religious impulse--for this landmark volume on the psychology of prayer. The authors serve as expert guides on a tour of prayer’s varied forms, motivations, transformations across life’s stages, and emotional and physical benefits."--David G. Myers, PhD, Department of Psychology, Hope College

"This book is of such high quality that I kept reading it in order to glean all of its knowledge, insights, and wisdom. Spilka and Ladd do a superbly honest, careful, and accurate job of squaring with the evidence on such issues as whether prayer heals, how its meaning evolves through development, what motivates it, and how it is mediated by cognitive, physiological, behavioral, and social psychological processes. This is the authoritative book on a timeless topic. Very happily, the authors avoid the too sweeping or simplistic; their suggestions and interpretations are realistic, sensible, and based on evidence."--Raymond F. Paloutzian, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Westmont College; Editor, The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion
"Until now, the psychology of religion lacked a systematic assessment of what is scientifically known about prayer. Two of the best scholars in the field combine theoretical rigor and methodological sophistication to provide this masterful review. The book is filled with wise recommendations for future research that will avoid the pitfalls that have characterized much of the empirical research to date. This is truly a much-needed, authoritative contribution on a topic central to all of the world's great faith traditions."--Ralph W. Hood, Jr., PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

"This is the psychology of religion at its best. Spilka is a founding father of the field, and he and Ladd have produced a gem of a book sparkling with the latest scientific information on the most critical questions about prayer. A remarkably sensitive work of scholarship, the book succeeds in constructing an empirically based psychology of prayer without diminishing or explaining away its value to those who are committed to a life of faith. This book could be used as a primary text for a graduate seminar or advanced undergraduate seminar in the psychology of religion and prayer."--Kenneth I. Pargament, PhD, Department of Psychology, Bowling Green State University

"Engaging, scholarly, and open minded, this is the first book to bring together theory and research on the many elements in the psychological study of prayer. Topics include the multidimensionality of prayer, intercessory prayer, developmental issues, and connections to coping and adjustment. This comprehensive book is essential reading for those interested in understanding the central role of prayer in the psychology of religion, and will serve as an important text in both graduate and undergraduate courses."--Crystal L. Park, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Connecticut

"Addressing essential themes, this book offers the best summary available of psychological research on prayer. Spilka and Ladd offer fair, thorough coverage--without shying away from controversial issues--and point out questions that need further study. This book is very well suited to an undergraduate- or graduate-level psychology of religion course; students will appreciate its approachable style."--Michael Nielsen, PhD, Department of Psychology, Georgia Southern University

"This book offers a hard-nosed yet respectful and sympathetic treatment of scientific research on prayer. As psychologists, Spilka and Ladd take scientific methods seriously as they show how multidimensional and psychologically useful prayer is. Readers will come away with a greater appreciation of the many ways prayer affects and is affected by psychology, and a more mature understanding of the role of prayer in their own and others' lives."--Everett L. Worthington, Jr., PhD, Department of Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University

“These authors have done a tremendous job of pulling together in one small book the various areas of inquiry concerning the psychology of prayer.”--PsycCRITIQUES
(PsycCritiques 2013-10-02)

The Psychology of Prayer is well written and delves deeply into the literature, broadly covering what all subdisciplines of psychology have discovered on this important topic that influences most of the world's population….As someone who has devoted much of his career to the scientific approach to studying prayer, I found this book to be very thought provoking and quite comprehensive. It is a must-read for anyone who wants to research this topic or who wants to become more familiar with the psychology of prayer.”--Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
(Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 2013-09-01)