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The Power to Pray

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Models for Prayer in Children’s Books by Willem G. van de Hulst

image of Religion and Theology

Drawing on Marcel Mauss, this article contends that historians and sociologists should not focus on what prayer brings about, but on how it is brought about or “produced.” Specifically, it aims at bringing to light normative conceptions of prayer, through content analysis of Protestant children’s books, written by the Netherlands’ most important twentieth-century author of juvenile literature, W.G. van de Hulst. A recurrent theme in his earlier works is a “breach” in the prayer life of the (male) protagonists – their “conversion” from conventional, “ritual” prayer to individualised, improvised, “sincere” prayer. In his later works, by contrast, Van de Hulst suggested that “real prayer” can be learned gradually, in an intimate relationship between children – notably girls – and their mothers. The gender- and age-specific nature of these models for prayer is shown by mapping out differences between prayer scenes, e.g. with respect to social setting, body postures, and forms of address.

Affiliations: 1: VU University and University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands


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