Prayer. Communicating with a Transcendent deity is a nearly universal and integral part of many ‘religions’ around the world. For many western traditions, prayer can be done anywhere, at anytime and by anyone. There are even discussions about whether or not an atheist can, or even should pray. Theologians have typically divided prayer up into three ‘types’. There is “inward prayer” that centers on self-reflection, “outward prayer” that is directed towards others, and “upward prayer” that seeks to give thanks to, and typically connect one with, a deity. Prayer is said before meals, some pray five times a day; others simply pray that this Transcendent deity will guide them throughout life. Many considered prayer as something extremely personal and private. As such, prayer might seem like an unlikely phenomenon for scientific inquiry. Moreover, can science say anything meaningful about prayer? Absolutely, according to prominent psychologist of religion Dr. Kevin Ladd.
In his interview with Thomas Coleman, Dr. Ladd gives an overview on the psychology of prayer. Ladd begins the interview by discussing what it means to pray. Perhaps most important, he explains how prayer is defined for research purposes, emphasizing that there is no essential definition, nor is one desirable. In taking care to uphold a scientific understanding of prayer, rather than a theologically apologetic one, Ladd understands prayer as a “psychological phenomena”, but with a “theological sensitivity to it”. In other words, we can understand prayer from a scientific point of view while also recognizing its (typically) theological basis. Ladd covers ‘types of prayer’ noting that there is more than one way to categorize differences in prayer. However, is there a secular source or equivalent for prayer? Are there differences between males and females? Does an individual’s age make a difference? Furthermore, if you want to know what a small army of undergraduate researchers, digital cameras, ‘casually dressed’ mannequins, and a labyrinth have to do with prayer research be sure to listen to the interview.
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