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Praying Practices

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image of Journal of Empirical Theology

There is very little empirical research about prayer. No convincing psychological theory exists, nor agreement about definitions and basic concepts. In the research which we conducted, open-ended questions were used to detect the meaning of prayer for modern youth. A computerized procedure (TexTable) was used to analyse the answers. The results show that the common prayer of youth can be summarized in one sentence, composed of 7 structural elements: 'because of some reason (1. need) I address (2. action) myself to someone or something (3. direction) at a particular moment (4. time), at a particular place (5. place), in a particular way (6. method) to achieve something (7. effect)'. These structural elements and their contents (several needs, various kinds of actions etc.: totalling 45 categories) were analysed for praying-frequency and denomination. The correlations between the structural elements pointed to a rather weak connection between needs, actions and effects. This could be clarified by applying Clifford Geertz' constructionist definition of religion to a definition of prayer. Praying was described as a coping strategy, mostly used to make things acceptable as they are (e.g. death and suffering) but sometimes also as a motivational device or an anticipatory action to change things according to one's wishes (e.g. the praying athlete).

Affiliations: 1: Psychological Department of the University of Nijmegen, Montessorilaan 3, 6525 HR Nijmegen, the Netherlands; 2: Sociological Department of the University of Nijmegen, the Netherlands; 3: Windesheim Academy, the Netherlands


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