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Prevalence and Religious Predictors of Healing Prayer Use in the USA: Findings from the Baylor Religion Survey

An Erratum to this article was published on 29 April 2016

Abstract

Using data from the 2010 Baylor Religion Survey (N = 1714), this study investigates the prevalence and religious predictors of healing prayer use among US adults. Indicators include prayed for self (lifetime prevalence = 78.8 %), prayed for others (87.4 %), asked for prayer (54.1 %), laying-on-of-hands (26.1 %), and participated in a prayer group (53.0 %). Each was regressed onto eight religious measures, and then again controlling for sociodemographic variables and health. While all religious measures had net effects on at least one healing prayer indicator, the one consistent predictor was a four-item scale assessing a loving relationship with God. Higher scores were associated with more frequent healing prayer use according to every measure, after controlling for all other religious variables and covariates.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The present author takes a positive view of the Byrd study. It was thoughtfully conceived and fairly sound, methodologically. Had the treatment modality been something other than intercessory prayer conducted by Christians, the study would have resembled a garden-variety clinical trial and been unlikely to have caused any commotion. Further reflections on this body of work and its contentious discourse can be found in an essay published several years ago in this journal (Levin 2009a).

  2. 2.

    In the BRS3, “race” is assessed by a series of questions. The instructions state, “What is your race? (You can mark ‘yes’ to more than one.)” There are then separate yes/no questions for “White,” “Black or African American,” “American Indiana or Alaska Native,” “Asian,” “Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander,” and “Some other race (please specify).” As a result, in creating a binary race variable, in this instance White vs. non-White, one has a choice: either identify respondents who check “yes” only to the White category and “no” to all the others (and are thus exclusively White) or identify respondents who check “yes” to the White category and to one or more of the other categories (and are thus multiracial and inclusive of White identity). For comparison, by the former criterion the sample is 60.8 % White (SD 0.49); by the latter criterion, the sample is 94.8 % White (SD 0.22). In the present analyses, this variable was used only as a covariate. Conducting the analyses both ways did not uncover any substantive differences in the net effects of the religious predictors. Because we did not wish to present duplicate sets of findings and tables on account of discrepancies in coding a single binary covariate, one of these definitions had to be selected. For the purpose of presenting the findings in this paper, the more exclusive classification is used.

  3. 3.

    These correlations were calculated using pairwise deletion of missing values, to enable the largest possible and most representative sample size. In the regression analyses (see Table 3), by contrast, listwise deletion was required, so the N’s there are necessarily smaller. Sample sizes for the present bivariate analysis range from 1316 to 1689, the lower numbers primarily due to elevated missing values counts for race and the loving God scale.

  4. 4.

    The overall lifetime prevalence of healing prayer use was a binary variable constructed whereby anyone who answered yes to any of the five healing prayer use items was counted as a yes, and anyone who answered no to all five items was counted as a no. In the BRS3, for the entire sample, overall lifetime prevalence came to 88.5 %.

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Acknowledgments

The author wishes to thank Rodney Stark, Byron R. Johnson, Sung Joon Jang, Kevin D. Dougherty, and F. Carson Mencken for assistance with data procurement and data management.

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Correspondence to Jeff Levin.

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Levin, J. Prevalence and Religious Predictors of Healing Prayer Use in the USA: Findings from the Baylor Religion Survey. J Relig Health 55, 1136–1158 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10943-016-0240-9

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Keywords

  • Healing
  • Prayer
  • Spiritual healing
  • Religion
  • Healthcare use