The Angus Reid Institute (a public opinion poll) released the results of a poll in May 2016 on the prevalence of prayer among Canadians. No, we did not commission this poll but it could not have been more timely, the very month we started our fieldwork on this project on the expression of prayer in healthcare settings. They reported that only 15% of Canadians never pray. Forty-two percent of Canadians reported that they prayed daily and another 44% said they prayed monthly. The most common reasons why Canadians prayed were to “thank God” (70%) and “ask for help” (70%) (See full report here)
Given that only 65% of British Columbians self-report as affiliated with religion (compared to 76% of Canadians in the 2011 National Household Survey), it appears that prayer is not limited to those who identify with a religion. Supporting this observation, in analyzing the 1985-2004 General Social Surveys and the 2002 Ethnic Diversity Survey, Clark and Schellenberg found that many Canadians who infrequently or never attend services regularly engage in personal religious practices on a weekly basis (i.e., prayer, meditation, worship and reading of sacred texts on one’s own).
Despite the prevalence of prayer, it is such less visible in public life in Canada than it once was. Three examples that quickly come to mind, two of prayer’s diminished presence, one of its re-emergence:
- I grew up saying the Lord’s Prayer in a public school; this would be anathema today.
- When I started nursing in the 1980s at the Grace Hospital in Winnipeg, a brief chapel service with prayer was broadcast throughout the hospital. You would be hard pressed to find this practice in any Canadian hospital today.
- Much more frequent in the opening and closing of academic meetings in our public universities is an Aboriginal blessing.
How then is space created for prayer in public contexts in “safe” ways to honour multiple traditions while avoiding imposition? When do personal expressions enter into or “transgress” shared social spaces? How do the micropolitics and macropolitics of power play out in these transgressions? If the majority of Canadians pray, what might we learn about religious and spiritual plurality by studying prayer? This project gives us a window into the practice of prayer, especially the extent to which Canadians in hospitals turn to prayer.