Why Prayer? A Conference on New Directions in the Study of Prayer

Italian Academy, Columbia University

On February 6-7, 2015, the SSRC’s Religion and the Public Sphere program hosted the capstone conference for its New Directions in the Study of Prayer (NDSP) project. Over the course of two days, more than 60 participants gathered at the Italian Academy at Columbia University for a series of panels and roundtable discussions that addressed topics ranging from religious technologies to the intersection of religion and politics to the challenges and rewards of covering prayer and religion in journalism.

Among the many presentations on Friday was a discussion of “Prayer Machines,” one of several interdisciplinary collaborations that developed out of the NDSP working groups. Saturday’s talks included a set of papers on “Honing the Sensorium in Individual and Collective Prayer: Case Studies from Eastern Orthodox Christianity,” with guests traveling from as far afield as Hungary to take part. In addition to the full schedule of discussions, some grantees also took part in the Prayer Expo—a set of exhibits highlighting material and multimedia aspects of the study of prayer.

The NDSP project, launched in 2011 with funding from the John Templeton Foundation, brought together 28 scholars and journalists engaged in innovative research and reporting on the social, cultural, historical, psychological, and cognitive dimensions of the practice of prayer, under the leadership of a multidisciplinary advisory committee. With grantees having completed their two-year research projects, the conference offered an invaluable opportunity to look back at the wide variety of scholarship supported by the program and to look forward to further exploration and continued collaboration.

For a full list of panels and participants, please download the full agenda here. For more information on the grantees and their research, read our Why Prayer? brochure here