Prayer in America

photo of Carol Zaleski

Subject: Carol Zaleski
Interviewer: Alison Rostankowski

The segments included in this interview* excerpt were recorded in Summer 2006, as part of Prayer in America, a look at the history of civil liberties in America and the controversy surrounding the USA PATRIOT ACT. The documentary is a production of The Duncan Entertainment Group, Iowa Public Television is the presenter and flagship affiliate for the PBS system. Carol Zaleski is the co-author (with Philip Zaleski) of Prayer, A History. She is a Professor of Religion at Smith College.

(* This transcript has been edited due to length.)

What is prayer and why do people pray?
I think prayer is really a matter of communication. It's communication with God. And, obviously, I think there are people who pray that don't necessarily formulate it to themselves as a communication with God, they may think about a higher power, or they may not even have the object that they're addressing clearly in mind, it may be just a plea or help. But communication of some sort is always involved.

It's an effort to make contact with the powers that support our being, with the creator, with the sustainer of all our existence, with any spirits out there that might be on our side. So I suppose in a basic definition of prayer I might offer it would simply be, communication with the divine. That doesn't sound very original, but I think that's probably a consensus view of what prayer really is.

What is the role of prayer in everyday life?
Well, I think people pray spontaneously in everyday life. Very often it may be just a matter of wishing very hard and very intensely, or as a kind of subconscious desire that's formulated in your heart and your mind, I wish I could pass that exam, or if only I hadn't slammed on the brakes just then, things like that are really, embryonic prayers. So that's one way in which prayer figures in everyday life, that there's an undercurrent of thinking, a kind of inner dialog or inner monologue that may develop into prayer or may have within it, a kind of embryonic quality of prayer.

Then there are also ways in which people consciously attempt to structure their day by prayer, by praying at certain set times throughout the day that mark the passage of time in that day, and that gives it a kind of coherence and make the day seem less chaotic and more, cosmic, actually, that relates the passage of time in the day to the ordering of the whole cosmos. So I think that the daily prayers of Muslims five times a day have that effect of orienting you as you turn towards the prayer direction. And Mecca, everyone is oriented, literally, if it requires facing east, you're being oriented. And you're oriented in time as well as space by that kind of daily, regular, repetitive prayer. So those are two quite different ways in which prayer can suffuse the day, both as a spontaneous and maybe not very well articulated cre de cur, plea from the heart, or a kind of, not always a plea from the heart, sometimes just a kind of comfortable dialogue with God that some people find just occurs naturally, or it may be this very structured, very choreographed way of bringing prayer into daily life. And there are many variations on both the, that kind of spontaneous and choreographed daily prayer.

Coming at that from a slightly different angle, can you talk to, the differences between that kind of private prayer experience and the more public or communal settings for prayer? Are there big differences?
Yes, there are. And sometimes, though, I think the differences are exaggerated. I think we tend to feel that we are very private individuals, separate from one another, and that there's a big difference between our thoughts, and feelings, and actions, within the privacy of our own separate lives and what happens when we get together in the public square. It's certainly true that the public square is a busy place in which we encounter people from many different backgrounds who have different agendas. And so we have to adjust to the presence of different people in the public square, religiously this is certainly quite the case. We're constantly having to make these adjustments so we can't speak our minds always fully, or pray our prayers out loud without making some allowance for that.

But, at the same time, I think when we pray in the closet, in secret, in private, in the silence of the heart, we're not doing something which is isolated from the rest of the world, we're still in contact with other people, the people of our own faith community or cultural tradition. And in some ways we're still in dialogue with others, the people that come from different backgrounds and have a different orientation, religiously and culturally than our own. So, I think there can be an exaggeration of the difference between the private sphere and the public sphere. And I think that sometimes we'd like to be able to make the clear boundaries and say, this is private and it stops here, and over there is the public square and we do neutral things there. Well it doesn't really work. That doesn't seem to have been a successful effort.

What do you think most Americans pray for?
Most Americans, I think, pray for health, well-being, love, the health and well-being of their families and their neighbors. They may pray for prosperity, for protection. So those are all forms of petitionary prayer. There are whole other universes of prayer: contemplative prayer, prayer of adoration, and prayer of meditation. I think the most common form of prayer is a petitionary prayer in which you have your own interests in mind but also, you're thinking about the people you care about and whose lives are entangled with your own. And that can be a very wide spread entanglement, so that you can pray for world peace, you can pray for your neighbors cat to get better, and you can pray to pass an exam, and all those are interrelated forms of petitionary prayer, they don't need to be said at odds with each other.

Is this emphasis on petitionary prayer unique to America, or is this a universal trend?
I think it's universal that petitionary prayer is the dominant form of prayer. I do think that, in many ancient cultures, you see evidence of petitionary prayer and of rituals that accompany petitionary prayer, like it may be, our chief evidence for the existence of petitionary prayer in ancient cultures where people will offer something to the gods in return for which they hope to get some benefit. So that's ritual sacrifice, the offering of good things to the gods in the hope of receiving some return, is always accompanied by prayer in which you state, perhaps in symbolic language, what it is you're offering and what it is you hope you will receive in return. I think that is the most fundamental form of prayer. It's an act of communication and it's a kind of exchange between the human and divine realms where you offer something of yourself and you ask for something in return.

Some people don't like that idea, some people think that that's selfish, and self-centered, and too commercial, in a way, that you should give something to God and expect something back. That it's trying to manipulate the gods or win their favor through some kind of bargaining process. But, in our book we, we argue that, that it needed be viewed that way, and that it is the most universal form of prayer and that it is a salutary form of prayer, that's not a bad thing.

Is prayer a universal human experience and, if it is, why is this, is this the case?
Is prayer a universal human experience. I would certainly say that it is a universal human experience. It's hard to find evidence to support either that assertion or its opposite. I suppose there are people who would deny that prayer is necessary to human life, but I think it would be hard to deny that prayer is pervasive in human cultures throughout the ages. Some of the oldest works of poetry, the oldest monuments, the oldest works of art are, forms of prayer and express prayer, and express yearning for something, and express thanksgiving to the divine, adoration, confession, praise, and petition.

Examples of that can be found in ancient Mesopotamian poetry and in ritual and literary texts of the oldest kind imaginable throughout the world. So, where is prayer not to be found. I can't imagine, I just think anywhere you look, once you get sensitized to it, you have to sort of put up your antennae for it, start looking for it, and you find it everywhere.

Is there a difference between ritual and prayer, and to what extent is ritual prayer?
Ritual is prayer enfleshed, it's prayer in action. So I think if we were going to try to discriminate prayer and ritual, we might say that prayer is the articulation of what ritual tries to express. The two very much go hand in hand. There are forms of prayer in which the ritual element is much less pronounced than in other forms. I guess the question is whether a Zen Buddhist sitting in silent meditation or a Quaker in a meeting is engaged in a ritual of some kind. I would say yes. I would say that silent, formal posture of sitting and attending on the divine is a ritual act, it's just a very quiet one and a very streamlined one. So, what they're doing with their bodies is essentially the ritual aspect of it. And the use of formal patterns, so it isn't just a mind/body split but the formal, regularly repeated, choreographed aspects of prayer are what we might call its ritual dimension.

What I find interesting is that it's very difficult to find any ritual that doesn't have prayer along with it in the sense of verbal or expressive language that seems to be necessary for the efficacy of the ritual action, in other words, you can strip down the physical actions and gestures to the point where you're just sitting in silent meditation, but you can't get rid of prayer and still have the sense that the practice will be efficacious.

To give you some evidence for that, I have to think a little bit. But that is a conclusion that we reached, that you can. Well, there's a story that illustrates this. Let's see if I can reconstruct the story from memory. It's been a little while. There's this, actually it's a Hasidic tale about a ritual that was performed whenever a disaster was threatening in this Hasidic community. And, the ritual involved some kind of offering, lighting a candle and saying a prayer. And once that was done the disaster was averted.

A generation went by and they somehow forgot some of the ritual elements that they were suppose to perform in order for this operation to be successful. But nonetheless, they lit the candle and they said the prayer, and the disaster was averted. Another generation went by, and they forgot about lighting the candle, but they remembered the prayer, and the disaster was averted. Finally, I think, the last stage in this evolution according to Ailey Vizel's retelling of it, is that they were able to tell the story, so the disaster was averted. Well, maybe not entirely. There is a sense that the prayer is the essential thing that establishes that connection between the struggling human group and their divine author and authority figure.

You said you need to probe a little bit if you look a little bit more closely, you find evidence of prayer. And you said something along the lines in your book wherever one finds humans, one finds humans at prayer. So, why is this?
Yes, you've been asking me this, why is it that, that wherever one finds humans one finds humans at prayer. I think it's a fundamental human need. It's a need for relatedness. I mean it's just something that's an essential nutritional need for the human being is to feel that there is some possibility, some channel of communication with other beings. And it seems that we need that communication with beings other than humans.

I thought there were some really interesting examples in your book. You said, there's nothing strange about prayer circumstances. And you go over a number of examples historically, and in more contemporary settings, like daily popular culture, American, revivalism, the Fourth Awakening, etc. Can you talk through a few of those for me.
Yes, I think when we're talking about American culture, if you want to look for examples of prayer erupting in odd places, one example would certainly be the football fields and the athletic fields generally where prayer has made a big showing in recent years, even during a period in which we're very conscious of ideas about keeping prayer out of the public sphere. What could be more public than the arena of sports, combat. And yet prayer is very explicit in that context and seems to somehow go along very well with the ritual combat that is sports, it seems to be a good match somehow.

Perhaps some people cringe when they hear prayers being uttered by football players or they see a baseball player cross himself before he goes up to bat. But it seems, there's a bit of showmanship in it, possibly, I mean these guys are aware that they're being viewed by thousands of people, millions of people. But it is also, I think, a spontaneous thing that, when you put yourself on the line, when you get up there at bat, or on the pitchers mound, or I don't know the football equivalent, I'm not a football person at all. But when you put yourself on the line in sports or in any other area of life, you've got to summon up all the powers that are within you and without you, all the benevolent powers. It's really putting on the armor of prayer, to use that Biblical language, the breastplate of faith. And I think that people have a strong need for surrounding themselves with benevolent forces and dedicating themselves to a higher purpose when they set out to achieve something that they feel is important.

So in the political realm, how would somebody like FDR, how did he use prayer and why did he use it in a particular moment in time? It seems like a very almost deliberate choice.
Right. I think another place where you find prayer surfacing, even in a period where there's some trend toward secularization is, of course, in wartime. I've likened sports contests to combat, but then there's war itself, and during wartime, we've seen in the past, several great wars of our time that it's been viewed as a real necessity that you have public figures enlisting the power of prayer.

FDR praying over the radio to millions of listeners is an example of that during World War II. Over in England you had C.S. Lewis giving his broadcast talks on the BBC radio to provide encouragement to pray and also to reflect, and to have a sense that people are united in prayer against all that threatens their way of life. So, certainly, prayer in wartime is a big thing.

If you look on the Internet now, there are groups of Navy spouses that get together to have Internet prayer circles to pray for their loved ones in combat and in the service, and for all branches of their service you can find these. So prayer during war is something that's going on around us right now and is very visible, you can Google it, prayer and war, you'll find a lot.

One of the other interesting things you said, and this is a quote from the book, you said, prayer entails a multitude of forms and a multiplicity of aids. Can you share some examples of what you're arguing there?
Sure. I think if you wanted to look, raise those antennae, become more sensitive to the presence of prayer in our midst, one thing that one needs to look for is the multitude of forms that it can take, the kinds of practices that are associated with prayer. Which can include chanting, it can include silence, some prayers are very long and developed, others are very short and subtle, or quiet, it can involve dancing. Now, for people that don't have dancing as part of their prayer tradition this may not be obvious at first but dancing, even ecstatic dancing, is a very important prayer form in many traditions. In Hasidic Judaism, in the Afro-Caribbean religions, you dance your prayers, you don't just speak them.

So, various forms of music, of artistic expression, of rhythmic bodily movements are associated with prayer; whirling, thumping, lying prostrate, kneeling. So one would need to look for all of those different bodily expressions. And then there's a kind of material culture of prayer as well. Most of the items that people use, the objects that are aids to prayer, that's a fascinating study. And if you could kind of picture a virtual museum of prayer, it would have fascinating objects, often very artfully contrived: Rosary beads, prayer wheels. We have a Tibetan friend who went into exile, I think in the same year the Dalai Lama fled Tibet. He had been a monk from the age of five, fled Tibet, came and settled in our area, and was able to return to his homeland a few years ago and brought back some pictures. And one of the pictures he showed us was this gorgeous pray wheel structure, absolutely enormous, colossal structure with hundreds, and hundreds of glistening prayer wheels which the villagers and the monks in the neighborhood would turn periodically to make sure that these prayers were always being delivered up to heaven. And we looked at these glistening prayer wheels and we said, what is that made out of. And it turned out it was cast off Pepsi-Cola bottles, plastic cola bottles, that they had recycled into prayer wheels. So that's what I mean.

The ways in which prayer intersects with material culture is really quite interesting. That the objects of a consumer culture could be converted by this kind of alchemy, almost, into mechanisms of prayer. So what else, people use beads to count prayers. Very often the physical objects that are used for prayer have to do with keeping track of them. If you're trying to do a complicated sequence of prayers, you have to organize your day or make sure that you've covered a lot, or different, aspects of a prayer and you might wanna count them out, so beads, stones, rose petals, you know, any of those things can be used to count prayers. Your fingers can become part of the armamentarium of prayer.

So, looking for prayer in all aspects of culture, I think is a very good thing to do. But I think, at the same time, it's possible to over idealize the subject, I suppose. I think that prayer is at the heart of every vibrant culture. But, in some ways, I think ours is not such a vibrant culture. That is to say that prayer has been stripped away from the arts, from the public square, from the culture-generating engines into an extent that has really been deleterious for our culture. I think, when you compare a lot of modern art to, the great works of art of the past of any culture, you see what happens when you get rid of prayer, when you separate prayer from art.

I mean, traditional art is almost always, in one way or another, linked to prayer. It's either, explicit religious monuments, it's something that serves prayer, it's something that is inspired by prayer, and that evokes prayer. And, a lot of modern art, seems to be an effort to run away from that in the same way that a lot of secular culture is an effort to run away from that, to say prayer is something that either is a waste of time or should be done privately, should be kept out of the domain of culture, of intellectual culture, of the arts, of theater.

Now, there are some great works of abstract modern art that express, the spirit of prayer. We talk in the book on prayer about Kandinski, and other great modern artists who have, in fact, sought through art to experience something very like prayer, and to communicate that to their audience. But I can't help but feel that there is a difference between a cathedral and an all glass corporate office building, and that difference has something to do with the presence of absence of prayer as a motivation and a coloration of those structures.

I liked the sentence in your book, prayer does have a wellspring and its name is the temple. What's this relationship between the place of worship in prayer, is it a necessity or merely a different way of praying?
Whether we need a structure to pray in, that's an interesting question. If you think about the early Christians, for example, I mean they didn't have big basilicas and gothic cathedrals to pray in, they had their house churches. Really, the home was a place of prayer. And the home always should in some sense be the temple and in most religious traditions there is a sense in which the home is consecrated, it's blessed, and it is a kind of domestic alter.

But there is an impulse in most civilizations to create places of worship, places of sacrifice, which is, in many ways, the primary function of the temple is a public place where, in addition to domestic prayer, you gather and offer something up to God or to the gods. And the temple becomes, then, the center for the civilization, for the city, it's the heart of the city, it's the place to which all roads lead and from which all roads are carried out. Actually I was just standing and in front of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Parque-- Paris, everyone calls that Notre Dame, but there, there are other Notre Dames, not just he one with the football team. But, in Paris, there's a marker there that says, this is point zero, this is the center of the city where you have the cathedral, and the rest of the city takes shape around that symbolically.

One of the areas we're looking at is intercessory prayer. Can you talk a little bit about what it is, and I'm particularly interested, in knowing what do Buddhists believe about intercessory prayer, how do Muslims approach intercessory prayer?
Intercessory prayer is a form of petitionary prayer in which you're praying for others. And, it's actually, a fascinating and really gorgeous kind of prayer because it unites people, it creates bonds of communion, between the living and the dead, among other things. For example, in the Buddhist tradition, intercessory prayer, particularly in east Asian Buddhism, is extremely important. In some ways are the most important things, that you can do is perform acts of prayer and, um, ritual offering to benefit your ancestors, so that their experience in the afterlife will be a happy one. And so that, if they have to be reborn, their next birth will be a fortunate one.

And so, the obligation to perform intercessory prayer, and to make intercessory offerings, really knits the family together, and it knits the family to a sense of extended family throughout the generations. It can, sometimes, be a suffocating burden, but it certainly is something that keeps a sense of family and cultural unity going in a very, very powerful way. So there is a link there, as there is in the Christian tradition between the living and the dead that is formed by practices of intercessory prayer.

Within Roman Catholic Christianity, this is related to the doctrine of purgatory, the idea that some souls, who are destined for heaven, still have some purification they have to get through and that the experience that they will have during their time in which they're undergoing that purification can be effected by the prayers, the intercessory prayers of their loved ones. So, what a wonderful idea that you can have that relationship of helping one another.

Similarly, the idea of praying to the Saints is not predicated on the thought that they're little godlings, it's that they are a part of this communion of intercessory prayer. You pray to the Saints to say, please pray for me, this is sort of, relay my prayers to God. And so you get the sense of a vast communion of the living and the dead. And that's one way in which prayer establishes communication and overcomes a sense of isolation. It isn't just abstract communication with an invisible God. Intercessory prayer is also a way of connecting to others both living and dead, with whom your fate is intertwined.

You said in the book, "if prayer is a battle, then intercessory prayer is its elite unit." And I thought that was an interesting comment and wondered if you could explain exactly what you mean.
Right. Intercessory prayer has been linked, in many traditions, with a kind of marshal imagery, that you go and stand in the breach as Moses did, that you are out there fighting the forces of evil on behalf of your loved ones. It has a different quality to it than simply praying for something that you need for yourself. Since you're praying for someone else, you are, in a sense, doing battle for them; you're the night in shining armor.

If you look on the Internet, again, if you Google intercessory prayer, you will find all these groups talking about being prayer warriors and prayer rescue circles. And they use this kind of marshal language which I find very interesting. Along with that breastplate imagery of surrounding yourself with a protective forces of prayer. There's this idea of putting yourself out for another person through prayer. And so, in that sense it is like the elite unit of prayer that these are the people that are out there trying to keep the world from falling apart by praying over it.

In the American context and you've obviously looked at this on the Internet, is this related to a particular denomination or do you find this crosses religious lines?
Intercessory prayer is certainly founded in many religious traditions, if not all religious traditions. That prayer warrior language, I suppose is found in American context most often in Evangelical Christian circles. Though perhaps it's not exclusive to them. But it tends to crop up among people who have a very intense experience of intercessory prayer, and really are convinced that it can accomplish things. And so it's a way of marshaling your forces to use it. It's what William James called the moral equivalent of war. I'm not sure that he had intercessory prayer rescue circles in mind, but he certainly wouldn't have been opposed to the idea.

The great American philosopher and psychologist, William James was absolutely convinced that prayer works, that a prayer accomplishes things that cannot be accomplished by other means. And he saw the value of it, not just in terms of these subjective benefits of prayer, but he thought it was quite possible that there are forces out there that could cooperate with human beings and on a spiritual and supernatural plane. So, I think that is something that's, embedded in the American psyche. William James was not exactly an Evangelical Christian himself, but he was very affected by what he read in the writings of Jonathan Edwards, among others, about the ways in which lives can be turned around by prayer.

One of the things that I found really interesting about American religious history is these religious awakenings, these waves. And somebody commented to us in filming the other day, that the Fourth Great Awakening is coming. Can you talk to that? Why is there a belief this is happening? What are these awakening experiences, why do they appear when they do in American history or culture?
I'm not sure I can say that I know. I don't know why the great awakenings come when they do. And I suppose there are historians of American religion that have hypothesis about that. But, I don't feel confident in my own powers to discern what makes that happen. But it does seem to be a characteristic of American religion, and it pops up in surprising places that, tendency to have awakenings and revivals is perhaps what's going on in things like the Woodstock music festival. That was a religious awakening. Alcoholics Anonymous, is absolutely centered on the healing possibilities of a religious awakening and the need for a religious awakening through conscious contact with a higher power; in other words through prayer.

And that's an American product, Alcoholics Anonymous. The idea that the benefits of a religious awakening, and of the regular methodical practice of prayer, can be distributed to people in a pluralistic society without being restricted only to particular kinds of religious language, particular kinds of religious commitment. That's very much an American idea. So you get this revivalism, on the other hand, and this kind of spirit of pluralism and openness to experimentation on the other. When those two things combine, you have a powerful mixture that makes for the continued vitality and recurrent eruption of prayer and religious experience in this country, and there's certainly no end of that in sight.

Wasn't there some of that same tension, to a certain extent, at the Yankee Stadium event, these different religious groups, maybe a Catholic there saying, well, I'm praying to God through a saint, Muslims praying differently, Quakers another way etc? Or, think about the problem with Lutheran minister Benke.
If we cannot pray as a human family, then it is a very sad commentary no matter how we find each one of us defining whom it is we're praying to. You're mentioning minister Benke, he had a very tough road after that because there were those who believed that he should not be praying with others who did not believe in the same God in the same way that his own Synod of the Lutheran Church believed. It's interesting because another Synod of the church has a belief that when prayer is said that, literally, it should be whispered, For example, if a minister goes to a hospital to help a patient who is a member of his congregation, when they pray, they whisper to one another so that nobody else will hear their prayers, because they believe that that prayer is so very special that is really contained within the religion. That's something that I think that we have always had to deal with in some way, and it's something that we'll continue to deal with. But it doesn't take away from the fact that, for most of us, prayer does become a unifying force, that's what's important to realize. For most people who genuinely have a desire to be able to reach out to God that they do believe that as a human family we can come together, we can pray, even in the midst of different religions, of different faiths, of different churches.

I'd like to jump into the AA material a little bit. And I think that the story of the founding of AA, for example, is one that might surprise a lot of people.
Right. The story of AA is a really fascinating chapter in the history of American religion and in the history of prayer generally. It really is a story about prayer. You have Bill W., Bill Wilson, an inveterate alcoholic, very ambitious, always trying to make a killing on the stock market and descending into what would lead to a state of complete madness and dysfunction, and death, ultimately through his alcoholism.

And he encounters, through a fellow alcoholic who has been converted, Ebby Thatcher, something called the Oxford Groups. The Oxford Group was an Evangelical non-denominational Christian, movement, which actually ended up developing into something called Moral Rearmament, but that's another branch that leads us away from AA. But to come back to AA, Ebby Thatcher had had a religious experience, under the influence of the Oxford Groups, which involved, admitting his own failings, admitting that he was powerless over this, what was understood to be a vice sin of alcoholism. And, opening himself to the influence of a higher power.

It involved repentance, it involved, prayer, kind of conscious, methodical collaborating with God, and it involved taking refuge, I think is the main keynote of this experience, surrendering yourself to the higher power, admitting your powerlessness and letting that higher power just flood your soul and retrieve you from the brink of insanity or death. Now, Bill W. says he didn't like any of this sort of religious talk. He would have nothing of it. And interestingly enough, Ebby, I think relapsed. But, the very famous story, it's now really the stuff of mythology about the major co-founder of AA, Bill W., is that when he was in this hospital for drunks and really at the end of his rope, he had this experience that he later called a hot flash. The room filled with light. This was a response to his making a desperate plea for help, God, if you're out there, if you exist, help me, show yourself to me. And then the room was filled with light. And he had this ecstatic experience.

Now, that is an example of actually two different kinds of prayer rolled into one. We call it the prayer of the refugee. That is that prayer that comes out of the depths, as Psalm 130 puts it, out of the depths I cry to you. It was that kind of prayer, and it was also an ecstatic prayer. So, here was a refugee, taking refuge in God, admitting his helplessness and hopelessness, and experiencing the kind of flooding of his being with light. This ecstatic joy took over where there had been despair.

That's a paradigmatic religious experience. That is, in a sense, the American paradigmatic religious experience. It's the born again religious experience. But in his case, it was kind of generic, it was just that light, God in general. It didn't seem to have a religiously specific character to it. It was just about that despair and that recovery or salvation. In fact, it involved a translation. This was developed later and the story is told in retrospect by a person, Bill W., who, after that, read William James and through conversation with his co-founder, Dr. Bob, who was also well-read in spiritual literature, they came to formulate an understanding of this kind of generic spirituality which involved translating the old Evangelical language of sin and salvation into a new, therapeutic language of addiction and recovery.

But the, the dynamic of experience was a essentially the same. It was that hitting bottom, deflation, is the language that Bill's doctor actually suggested to him. Completely hitting bottom, coming to the end of your rope, and then receiving this inrush of spiritual assistance. That was the hot flash experience. But Bill W. discovered that you can't make that happen in people, he went out and tried to save drunks all over the place by somehow triggering this mystical experience in them. But it didn't work. And he also realized that he couldn't sustain his own recovery just on the basis of this so-called hot flash. So the ecstatic experience wasn't enough, there needed to be some sense of community, he needed to be with fellow drunks, needed to be reminded of the hard facts of alcoholism, so a kind of healthy realism about, again, what older religious language would call sin, now applied to the medical, hard facts of alcoholism to keep him grounded.

In fact, it turned out that that hot flash experience wasn't the key thing, it was the prayer, it was the communion on a regular basis with God, with or without feelings of an intense spiritual kind. It was the daily contact with the higher power through prayer and with the communion of the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. So, they came to realize, as AA developed, how important that fellowship aspect was. And, again, that's what I was emphasizing, I think about prayer, is that it has this element of fellowship and of connection with God or with a higher power, you've gotta have both, it seems. And, that need for fellowship is perhaps what accounts for the creation of temples, and churches, and mosques, and other visible platforms, for communication with God. You can't just do it on your own.

The formulation, then of the 12 Step Program is in some ways, contingent upon the importance of prayer. Can you talk about the role of prayer in the 12 Steps, and then particularly I'm thinking about the Serenity Prayer.
I would really see AA as a movement that comes out of prayer and always returns to prayer as its source of inspiration, and as the reason for its success. Success can be measured in a number of different ways, and, certainly, not every alcoholic responds well to the methods of AA. But, looked at as a spiritual movement, it's immensely successful and it really does center on prayer that's found in various forms in AA literature and that can be witnessed if you ever visit an AA meeting. Some meetings are open. So if you're interested about this, you can go to an open AA meeting, which I've done, and you can see how important prayer is there. Many AA meetings use the Lord's Prayer, a Christian prayer. Others feel that it is better not to have the explicit Christian language because it's essential to AA to have inclusiveness, to have everyone feel that they can find a higher power, as they understand it, not just according to one perspective. So, in that case, a prayer like the Serenity Prayer, the provenance of which is contested, but generally is attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, though there may have been, earlier forms of it that inspired him. It really, encapsulates that idea of surrendering to a higher power, recognizing your own limits, if not utter helplessness. You don't have to hit bottom now to benefit from AA, and to participate in the kind of prayers that AA groups tend to favor. And that's a good example of one, just let me get through this day. All those bumper stickers out there, those are prayers on a lot of cars, when you see one it's, AA or AA inspired. And, just what is one day at a time, one day at a time, that's an AA prayer, bumper sticker prayer. There's a lot a bumper sticker prayers out there. It's interesting that we use our cars as vehicles of prayer, as ways of announcing, what it is we hope for, what we would like God to pay attention to, what we would like other drivers on the road to be thinking about. And that's prayer on wheels.

It's interesting that you say that, because there was something in the two examples you just gave, you said Alcoholics Anonymous, but then you also said something that I think would surprise a lot of people which is that you saw Woodstock as a prayerful experience.
Yeah. I was actually at Woodstock and so I can say, it was definitely a religious revival. Now I should explain, before I give the wrong impression, maybe. I should explain that I stumbled into Woodstock, I actually hadn't planned on going there. I was with some friends in the Albany area, we were driving down the highway, we had heard that this big rock festival was happening and there were caravans of hippies and all these VW microbuses with flowers painted on them, rolling down the roads, and everybody doing peace signs out the window and all that stuff, absolutely, very easy to caricature and make fun of.

And we didn't have tickets for the rock festival, we weren't planning to go to it, but somehow we saw this little side road that was not noticed by, the hordes of pilgrims headed into rock, to the rock festival. We took the side road and we found ourselves, we're in the middle of the rock festival. So we stayed there. Unfortunately we didn't have camping equipment. Anyway, I wasn't very interested in the music, personally, so I wandered around and there were apocalyptic prophets running up and down the, the hills with long capes, predicting some kind of great spiritual revolution. I mean it was ludicrous in many ways, it was dangerous in many ways, many people were taking drugs, and babies were being born, and it was a microcosm, in a way of the human condition. People were struggling to find food, people were trying to take baths as best they could. Little villages were springing up, people were making, naming roads in the forest, and people were trying to create utopian communities in this, bizarre rock festival. So I think for many people it was a pilgrimage experience, it was an awakening, it was a false awakening, I'm convinced. But nevertheless it, in many ways, reproduced that paradigm of the, the Evangelical tent meeting. You put up your tents, the Holy Spirit descends, you overcome all your past hang-ups, as they would have called it then, instead of sins, you're liberated, you're given a new spirit from on high or from some drug in that case. But, the two can sometimes overlap and sometimes get confused.

Let's turn now to your discussion of the Prayer of Jabez.
The Prayer of Jabez was a best selling book which gave rise to a series of other books, and seminars, workshops, and generated a great deal of excitement. The author had found this little known prayer in Chronicles, where Jabez prays that his territory be enlarged. And he the author of the book on the Prayer of Jabez, testified to the great things that happened in his own life when he tried out this prayer.

A number of people were very dubious about all of this. It sounded very self-serving that you should find this magical prayer that will make your territory enlarge and all the goodies will roll in from there. There is another American tradition of prayer, the Prosperity prayer. And you can find instances of it in the New Thought Movement in Christian Science. A great example of it, perhaps, the Reverend Ike, praying for that gold Cadillac. But the Prayer of Jabez, as I understood the book and its author's intention, is not simply a prosperity prayer. The territorial enlargement that we're told to ask for is territory in which we can expand ourselves for the glory of God and the good of our neighbors. I mean it was really a missionary book, and it wasn't just about getting good things for yourself.

A lot of the criticisms of that book struck me as snobbish. Even if people were, were using that prayer because they desperately needed some increase in their prosperity, I mean is that so terrible? A lot of the people that were criticizing it were pretty well off and pretty comfortable themselves, comfortable academics. Though, as an academic myself, actually I don't feel so comfortable. Maybe, I just don't have that trust fund that made me feel like the Prayer of Jabez was kind of crude. And I can really relate to praying for material needs.

So it wasn't, on the one hand, a prayer for material needs of a perfectly ordinary and respectable kind; it was a prayer for more opportunities to serve. So I don't see what the problem was with that. I think that was a perfectly valid form of prayer.

Like every good thing, prayer can be done in a one-sided or exaggerated way and I think that an example of that is prayer for prosperity that really goes off the deep end. I mean when you're really just using prayer in a manipulative way. Then it's essentially a manipulative form of magical prayer. I think most petitionary prayer has a certain element of magic in it, but the magic needs to be held in check for a prayer to flourish and to be a spiritually healthy thing. So, there's nothing wrong with praying for needs to be met, and it doesn't necessarily mean that you're not also praying for others needs to be met. It shows that you recognize that people are needy and yourself among them, but, not in competition with them.

So again, I feel that there's been a certain, prejudice, especially among kind of elite intellectuals, a prejudice against petitionary prayer. A certain tendency to say that the higher forms of prayer involve wordless communication with God, and don't involve asking for anything. There's the rather obvious taunt that you shouldn't need to ask God for anything, because God already knows what you want and what you need, and what you deserve to have. But, every religious tradition has an answer to that taunt, and that answer is that God likes you to ask. And that there is something actually quite salutary in the simple trusting, childlike dependence on Gods generosity and providence that is the basis for asking God for things.

So, as long as you don't think you can kind of just manipulate God and in a fully realized religious culture, where petitionary prayer happens alongside and in concert with other forms of prayer, it's a very good thing, it's a very healthy thing, and its absence would be a very shocking and a strange thing.

You give a couple of examples in the book of prayer in the public square. You say there's confusion today in a contemporary setting about the legitimacy of public prayer. So, first address question of why is there this confusion; and second give some examples that might illustrate that moment in time.
I think that in the process of building a pluralistic culture, a culture that is, in fact, built by immigrants that have learned to live alongside one another and build a common universe, we have raised a lot of questions for ourselves and caused a certain amount of confusion and tension to arise over the place of prayer in public, where we do brush up against our neighbors of different faiths or no faith.

I think one example of that tension and confusion is the famous case in Hamtramck, which is a suburb of Detroit. Not long ago, I think two years ago, Hamtramck had a series of waves in immigration, German, Protestant, Polish, Catholic, then Bengali, Pakistani, Muslims. So, all these people have got to get along with each other and, generally speaking, they manage to do so pretty well. But a mosque, put forward a proposal that it broadcast the call to prayer five times a day, which is a normal thing for a mosque to do in order to remind, Muslims of their obligation to pray at the different times of the day wherever they may be. And they need to be able to hear the call to prayers so that they can be awakened and reminded to perform their prayer function in union with their brothers and sisters. And there was an outcry about this because it was felt that it was invading the public square, invading the eardrums of non-Muslims, and even some of the people that objected to it felt that it was kind of like prostletizing.

Eventually, it was allowed to happen, and aside from noise ordinances, which, can affect church bells as well as, broadcasting of the call to prayer, it seems to be functioning all right. But, it could have blown up, and it did create an awful lot of tension.

How do you characterize the arguments of some of the people who were against the call to prayer, and what was the typical Muslim response, to those criticisms? I'm thinking of church bells versus a call to prayer.
Yes, I think people felt that the call to prayer was a particularly invasive expression of religion in the public square, that it was, in a sense, calling everybody to come and pray to what some people perceived as a foreign God, Allah. Now, Allah actually is just the Arabic word for God, so they're not asking people to pray to a foreign God but for non-Muslims, of course, it's not their practice and they would be put in the position of having to, in a sense, shut their ears. A non-Muslim hearing the call to prayer will be thinking, well, yes, I should probably pray, but not in those words, and not in that religious context. So, that was the problem they had with it, they really felt it was invasive.

Now the Muslims who were supporting this were making arguments like the fact that church bells can be heard, and church bells are also a call to prayer, except that people may have forgotten that. There are actually, other practices that had lapsed in, like the Angelus, I'm sure that the Catholics of Hamtramck, the older ones might remember the Angelus as a time when your supposed to pray at midday in commemoration of the annunciation of the Angel Gabriel coming to the Virgin Mary and announcing that she would be the mother of Jesus. And there's a Mary in prayer that's supposed to be a reminding time of prayer in the middle of the day, and the church bell would ring to announce the Angelus. But it lapsed a little bit, so you might have had a problem here because the Muslims were more vigorously prosecuting their prayer practice then, and the Christians were letting some of their traditional prayer practices lapse.

It seems to me that there's room for church bells and calls to prayer in the same square. And I think that that's what the people of Hamtramck, for the most part, came to feel. I think also for minority religious groups, there's the sense that there are Christian symbols all around, the Christians themselves may no longer even be aware of them and may not be as much effected by them as non-Christians are.

If we took a step back from that, so many of these arguments, it seems to me, around school prayer or the illustration you just gave, often come down to the establishment clause of the Constitution. One of the things I really found fascinating was your explanation of James Madison's writing.
Madison is certainly one of the major voices of the Establishment Clause, and interpreting the Establishment Clause in terms of the secular idea of the, secular conception of the public square. But it's all to easy to read back into figures like Madison, a version of that secular understanding of the public square, which was not the version he intended.

The evidence for that is that there is a prayer embedded in his own famous statement defending the Establishment Clause. As if he took for granted that while there needs to be some protection, a kind of neutral space in our Commonwealth, he took for granted that we all pray. He took for granted that the language would not shock his listeners, and would not distract them from his defense of the Establishment Clause. Which means his vision of the Establishment Clause has got to be a little different from that of the hardboiled secularists today.

So how does this writing reappear when the Supreme Court ends up tackling the same issue of school prayer?
I think that is forgotten, there's some eclipsing of that sense that the nation could be at prayer even while continuing to uphold this idea of not establishing a particular religion as having the authority and power in the public square. I think we've forgotten that the Establishment Clause has to do with not privileging a particular religion, it did not mean a naked religionless prayer and denuded public square.

I think that the future of discussions of prayer in the public square bound to be influenced by the increasing plurality of our culture and by the resurgence of traditional forms of religion. So you have at once pluralism and a kind of separatism or sectarianism, both on the rise, and neither of them perfectly happy with the hardboiled secularist understanding of the Establishment Clause.

Well it's interesting that you said that, because Jonathan Sarna, in his book, talks about the Jewish conflict when looking at school prayer, between what he calls the sphere of Christianization and fear of Godlessness.
Well I think school prayer is really quite difficult. My husband and I have both shared this view that while we're all for prayer, and we're all for prayer in the public square children are vulnerable, and it's very, very easy to make children feel that they're outsiders, that they're marginalized, that they're not included, even in some very innocuous sounding prayers. So, it's an irony that you have a dominant Christian culture where a lot of Christian's practices are fading. But nevertheless, you do still have to be careful that people that are not members of that dominant culture, however much its star may, in some ways be setting, so that they won't feel excluded. It seems to me its an absolute necessity. And I don't see a perfect solution to that, actually.

At the same time, this is a quote from your book, when you're talking about school prayer you say the court has also given public prayer a boost in some ways, shrugging its shoulders, and in God we trust, blessings and invocations at Presidential inaugurations, prayers at the court sessions. Can you talk to some of those places that kind of prayer is evident? And how do we account for that?
America's a very religious country. And because we don't have an established church, perhaps, it's very inconsistent, so that you have, in God we trust, you have prayers in Congress, you have prayers at the Supreme Court, and yet you also have these moments when decisions are made that seem to be a slap in the fact to people that want to have the most seemingly harmless exercises of their right to prayer.

So, one never knows which way it's going to turn up. But we certainly don't have an inexorable secularizing process going on. And I think no one claims that anymore.

Let's switch tracks a little bit here and talk specifically about slavery. Can you explain the significance of the Exodus story to the slaves?
It was very important when those who were enslaved by white masters here in the United States had to find a way to create meaning in their lives beyond the yoke of circumstances in which they find themselves. And so prayer became really one of the most indispensable tools in that way. It was not difficult once they learned from the Old Testament and the New Testament to be able to identify with the Israelites and how God had actually taken the Israelites and shown them through Moses to the Promised Land. So the hope always was for many of the slaves that even though they might not see the promised land, much in the way Moses never saw the promised land, that, perhaps and God willing, their children would see the promised land. That alliteration of slavery and the Israelites and the course that both took were something that certainly was very compelling for African American who were enslaved.

How would you characterize the public's reaction to the decision? And has it changed a lot today? Where does public sentiment lie over the school prayer machine?
I'm not really completely up to date on that now. So, it seems to me that the polls when I was looking at them a while ago, suggest that the majority of Americans favor school prayer in some form. I don't know what the current numbers are on that, I don't know how much I trust the Poll takers, but I imagine that's still the case. But I don't know what the numbers are now.

In the book you discuss 9-11 and the Yankee Stadium event. Why did millions of Americans feel that need to publicly gather and pray together?
Well September 11th was such a huge shock, it was such an existential shock, it was just, the abyss just opened up for Americans. I mean, this is a country where we've certainly experienced wars, but we didn't have World War I and World War II on our own soil, for the most part. And so, we're just not used to that sort of thing, and it was just so bizarre that it truly seemed demonic, I think, to many people. Whether or not they would use that language, seemed apocalyptic, it seemed demonic.

And, even though, in fact, there was a religious motivation for that act of terror in some respects, you could say religion fueled it as much as being a response to it. The spontaneous response to it was prayer and that just seems to be the American psyche. When you hit bottom, you reach out for prayer and for one another. It's really a replay of the AA story that we were talking about earlier, you hit bottom, you recognize that you're out of your depth, and that you need two things, you need God and you need one another, you need to pull together. Even with all your differences, even if you don't speak the same language, even if your ancestors came from different countries, you need to pray together, because that's what it means to be American. And when America is threatened in such a devastating way, and it does seem like the abyss is opening up, you need both of those poles, the divine and the neighborly.

Stanley Hauerwas described this gathering to us as fascism. A justification for war. Now all this is coming from his strong pacifist position. Could it be read that way? Were there any kind of nefarious interpretations of this event?
Well, It's certainly true that when that kind of spirit is generated, that it can be used for nefarious ends, and that it can create a kind of mass hysteria, and then that can turn towards a justification of horrendous things. But I don't think that's what was going on in September 11th.

In fact, I was very struck by the lack of interest in demonizing the enemy that went with that outpouring of religious emotion. I mean there have been other times in history when the enemy strikes, you get together and pray, and you essentially label the enemy as non-human, and to be annihilated. That's not what was going on at all, except maybe in the lunatic fringe in a few cases. So I don't buy that interpretation of it. Although there's always that potential and that danger.

Our word enthusiasm, originally had that implication, it means being caught up in God, it's from the Greek word in Godism. And in Godism, has has often been viewed as a very dangerous situation, very dangerous state of affairs. Great philosophers in the enlightenment were always saying watch out for enthusiasm, it creates wars and it does. So religious enthusiasm, and ecstatic prayer, and the prayer of the desperate, the refugee, is extremely powerful, it goes to the roots of human hearts, and it can be twisted.

Civil religion is this kind of nebulous term that everyone has their own kind of definition of. But it's made me think that in times of war, be it 9/11, or some of these other events is there a conflation sometimes, possibility, a kind of government policy in prayer.
I've always felt that civil religion is often talked about, but what I saw happening on September 11th, I didn't see it as civil religion, I feel people were drawing on the resources of their own religions, plural, in a religiously plural society. And were not simply turning the flag into a religious symbol. There was some of that definitely, but there was also the sense of just recovering their own religious position in the cosmos that everyone has to do both collectively and individually. That was going on too. And that can be a check against the jingoistic kind of civil religion.

One of the things that I've always found interesting is this very American notion that God is on our side. And I wonder, was this of coming through at Yankee stadium?
I don't think so. I don't think it was God is on our side, in the sense of on the side of this particular nation state. I've heard that criticism, that it was American exceptionalism going awry. Now I'm not talking about whether all the policies that followed were right, but no, I think it was, God is on the side of truth, God is on the side of decency, of life, against death, against the suicidal cult of death, essentially, that terrorism represents. That's what I think people were praying about.

It was really life against death, it wasn't us against them or them against us. At least that's how I read what was going on in the, the prayers, were taking place at ground zero and in the national response to it, for the most part.

Well then let's talk about Yankee Stadium, because one of the uniquely American things about this, are all of these diverse, religious people coming together. So, are they praying to the same God? How are they praying? If you put all of these people in a stadium together, what kind of religious experience is occurring here?
Well it is a little bizarre. There are irreconcilable differences between the religions. So when they come to pray together, which seems to be a natural response to such a disaster. There is an element of confusion of tongues. It's not Pentecost, they're not all understanding each other. And, in that sense, they're not all praying to the same God.

On the other hand, if there is a God, the same God is listening to all their cacophonous prayers. And, so he'll sort that out. But, it's not gonna be easy until the veil is lifted, and we know the truth, and can see it all together and then we're all in for some surprises, I'm quite sure.

Our initial impulse may be to think that it's absolutely fine for people of all faiths to pray together, and to think otherwise is to be, essentially, ungenerous, and the worst time to be divisive. But the fact is that religious traditions do have very unique truth claims and their unique language. And when you simply disregard that, you get a kind of a mishmash that touches no one, really. I mean you have Oprah Winfrey up there, you can generate a lot of sentiment, a lot of emotion, a lot of tears. But then, after that, it's all gone because it doesn't belong to a coherent faith tradition that tells you what to do next and how to respond. So there is a genuine problem there. I don't think that the answer to that problem is simply to slap down someone like Behnke, who's there to pray with others. But, at the same time, simply to imagine that there's no problem at all seems to me to be kind of kidding ourselves.

Well let me read you something, from Jim Moore's book, One Nation Under God. He suggests we need to recognize "how Americans, despite the diversity, are unified in their spirituality with one another and with a higher being. Americans today must understand prayer as a unique and unifying force."
I think prayer is a unifying force, but what unity are you talking about? I mean there are different unions that we belong to. And, it's certainly the case that interfaith prayer on the scene of a disaster like 9/11, creates a sense of the unity of the American national spirit, and really, of humankind at the same time. But people have their faith communities as well and their prayers that are religion specific or tradition specific, unite them to those faith communities.

There's also the kind of communion I was speaking of earlier. That prayer unites the living and the dead in a kind of cosmic community. So these are overlapping unions, and I think it would be misleading to stress the union of the American people as the locus of prayer, or as the union that prayer generates and nurtures without also looking at these other unions, which may in fact, be the primary locus of commitment for members of particular traditions. I mean if you're Amish, there's a sense of, America allows for very specific and even sectarian forms of union and commitment, and that's part of the genius of the American experiment, that it does so, and it doesn't simply force a melting pot, model of our union.

So it could, I'm not sure, I want to see it in context, but it sounds a little bit like the melting pot model is being deployed there, that prayer is a great force for melting us all together and for melting us down. And then what? We can speak only to a higher being, a higher power. AA, again, is an example of that Americanization of prayer where, because we're all so different, we have to use generic language. I think that works within the context of AA for reasons that are very specific, having to do with the fact that they're grappling with this horrible disease of alcoholism and it really works there. But, it doesn't create a whole new religion that everyone can belong to. And civil religion is not a religion that everyone can belong to. We're not gonna have that kind of union, and prayer is going to fragment and divide as much as it unites. That's, again, the power of prayer and the danger of prayer, is that it unites us in sometimes conflicting unions, it doesn't merge us altogether into one.

There are some obviously distinctly American phenomenon when it comes to religious experiences, I'm thinking particularly about Christian Science. So, it'd be interesting to hear what is the reason, why is this so distinctly American?
Again, possibility because of the plurality of the American cultural and religious experience. There's been a tendency to look for what is the common minimal meeting place that we can have spiritually, psychologically, economically, where's a common currency. And, the common currency, in terms of religion, has been therapy for Americans, generally speaking. Prayer works, Americans tend to believe, in so far as it causes us to be healed of our problems, to be cured of our mullahs, or even of particular illnesses. And that would be the best evidence for the value of prayer. Not whether it unites you to some transcendent God, but whether you can see the results here and now, in the form of healing, and also of prosperity and well-being generally. So that's a particularly American emphasis, though it's not, exclusively American, the emphasis is something that you really notice in America. William James said that the mind cure movement, which is always called New Thought, was Americans one original contribution to the history of philosophy and religion. That's the one thing that we dreamed up here on American soil, was this use of prayer to make self-fulfilling affirmations, everyday in every way I'm getting better and better. The transformation of prayer from petition into affirmation. And the idea that prayer really amounts to a technique for self-healing, which could then be validated by scientific methods, in fact, because health is something that can be examined, and tested, and, it can be treated like you would test and validate any pharmaceutical nostrum. So prayer is a nostrum according to this characteristically American view of prayer. So really there are two major American paradigms that have influenced the development of prayer practice in, in American history: One is the revival model, the idea of hitting bottom and then receiving an inrush of grace; and the other is the self-healing, self-help model. And sometimes those two merge, as they have done, actually, in the history of AA, where you get both this idea, this kind of conversionism, American Protestant conversionism, mixed together with the use of positive thinking affirmations, which really repeat to yourself and kind of hypnotize yourself into having a good outlook, a positive outlook. It's a very interesting confluence.

Could we talk a little bit about Mary Baker Eddy?
I hate to make big wild generalizations, but, there does seem to be a special role for women in ecstatic prayer, prayer that involves rapture, trances. There seems to be less of a role for women in leadership positions where other kinds of formal prayer are involved. There's a special role for women in domestic prayer in many traditions, you know, lighting the Sabbath candles, and a special role for women in medium mystic kinds of prayer, which breaks through the boundaries of conventional prayer practice. That's where women seem to come into the limelight in American religious history and in other, realms as well.

And Mary Baker Eddy is a very good example of that, someone who became an authority figure, who would never have had that kind of authority if she had been working within conventional mainstream, Protestant Christianity or any other mainstream Christian communion. But, she received powers through this miraculous healing experience that she had that she was then able to convey and teach to others. And she became this great metaphysical teacher, teaching that disease and death are an illusion and that prayer is a matter of coming into communion with the universal spirit. And overcoming that illusion of disease, thereby bringing about healing.

So she tapped in to this, characteristic American therapeutic orientation with regard to religion. And as someone who received her powers through the ecstatic route, she was able to have extraordinary authority and power, even as a woman. Even, out flanking, out distancing the person who originally healed her, Phineas Quimby, the mesmerist.

In your book you touch on the growth in recent years of scientific study of prayer, the big studies that are coming out of incredibly well-respected institutions, Duke, Mayo Clinic, etcetera. Why and why now have we seen this growth in these kinds of scientific studies of prayer? And, and again, they seem to come predominantly out of the United States.
Yeah, I think Americans are particularly interested in evidence that these nostrums work. And if they are nostrums, if prayer is a means of achieving, certain tangible benefits, then, presumably, it could be tested. And science is a kind of like lingua francas, also that cuts across different religious and cultural boundaries, it's a language we all speak, it's a language we all use. If it could validate our religious experience, wouldn't that be wonderful. We're practical people, we're pragmatic, we like to see results, we like to have those results made public and tested and validated.

The first major prayer study, though, actually did come from England, that was Sir Francis Galton, this very eccentric scientist who did things like the beauty map of the British Isles to find out where, statistically speaking, the most beauty would be found. And he applied that statistical genius to studying prayer and eventually decided that prayer failed the test, that there was no statistical evidence for the efficacy of prayer. For example, as he pointed out under the Church of England, everybody prays for the longevity of the King, of the monarch, and the monarch doesn't always have that longevity. So that the test has failed right there off the bat in the British Isles. In America though, since we don't have a monarch to pray for perhaps, and since we're all praying in different ways for different kinds of health and well-being, the idea of testing and providing statistical and clinical evidence for the efficacy of prayer really took off, even after that apparent failure.

So, you have two kinds of scientific prayer studies: One has to do with the subjective benefits of prayer, does it make you feel better when you pray; and the other has to do with the efficacy of prayer at a distance, that is, does it help people to be prayed for, even if they don't know they're being prayed for. So,there is an objective efficacy to prayer. And a lot of people have felt that it would be really fantastic if that could be shown to be the case.

A final question. You spend so much research looking back on not only American culture but many other prayer practices and many other cultures. So I'd ask you to do something different, which is to look forward. And say, if you were to be thinking of, where might American prayer practice be in the next 5 years, 10 years, 50 years, 100 years, what would you envision?
Well, the biggest way to make a fool of yourself is to make a prediction extrapolating from what seems to be a current trend. So, doing that, making a fool of myself, I will say that there'll be more traditional prayer on one side. That is to say, for instance within the Catholic communion, there will be a resurgence of Latin in the Roman Catholic rite, in the Roman rite, as well as an interest in other liturgical rites, and in the recovery of some traditional liturgical practices that were dropped after Vatican II. Similar things among Protestants and Jews, there's a tremendous interest right now in the recovery, retrieval, of traditional, sort of high liturgy practices that might have been dropped out of a fear of superstitiousness, or backwardness, or archaism. And there's a positive, Yen for archaism in prayer, and for the use of special language for the use of incense, for traditional music as opposed to a kind of soft folk music.

On the other hand, the opposite trend is happening as well, where you have comfortable house churches with the people sitting in sofas and praying together. I think both those trends will increase and will face-off against each other in interesting ways. I think that the use of the Internet as a means of linking up and sharing prayer requests is already colossal and will probably continue to increase as simply a natural medium for quickly getting the word out if you want someone prayed over. And, quickly communicating prayer intentions back and forth. So that will increase.

I think the move of Christianity demographically through the global south will effect American Christianity in a number of ways. And various waves of immigration will continue to reshape and intensify the experience of religious plurality in our country. So the one thing that won't happen is a simple, straightforward, secularization of American society.