When prayer shows up

Our blog has been quiet, hasn’t it, as we’ve shifted from data collection and coding to full immersion in writing up our project with the book monograph we are preparing. Early in the writing up period, the research team met for a 3 day Think Tank in Vancouver (September 6 – 8, 2017). Sonya Sharma, Christina Beardsley, Melania Calestani, Barry Quinn, and Andrew Todd travelled from the UK, and Lori Beaman, Rachel Brown, and Paul Bramadat arrived from other parts of Canada.

Prior to our meeting, we distributed early versions of our chapters among ourselves which allowed for deep conversation about each chapter.  The chapters represent various cuts through the data, with each set of chapter authors applying the analytic lens of their disciplines and expertise.

On the second day, we toured through St. Paul’s Hospital.  Walking the corridors, visiting the sacred spaces, and chatting with the spiritual health practitioners who guided us (thanks again to them!) brought social scientists and those from healthcare backgrounds closer to the site of what we are studying—the social relations of prayer in healthcare.

That afternoon, the Hulburt Theatre filled to capacity with healthcare providers, academics, and community members attending to hear our international team provide short presentations on how diversity shapes prayer and spiritual care. The buzz about this seminar suggests the relevance of this topic. In a room that usually hosts technical, clinical topics, space was held for thoughtful engagement around expressions of prayer. Our approach to the project is not pastoral (though there is a pull), not health-outcomes research (though that is important), not psychology of prayer (though we could go there) and neither theology of prayer. Rather, we study the social relations of prayer in healthcare as a window to religion in the public sphere.

We are striving for a critical reading of prayer in healthcare – not as apologists for prayer, but as analysts of prayer.

What happens when prayer shows up? Prayer can slow down the busy workings of a hospital, when someone refuses to enter the operating room until they have been prayed with. Prayer can transgress the boundaries between life and death, when a family prays over the dead body of their loved one. Prayer can bridge social differences, when the sounds of Muslim prayer blend with the clinical sounds of a hospital.

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