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Religion & the Public Sphere Places Prayer Capstone

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

Why Prayer? A Conference on New Directions in the Study of Prayer,” hosted by the program on Religion and the Public Sphere in New York City in early February, served as capstone for the program’s project on New Directions in the Study of Prayer. Launched in September 2011 to enhance knowledge of the social, cultural, psychological, and cognitive dimensions of prayer and of its origins, variations, and manifestations in human life, NDSP has generated innovative research on prayer and fostered the development of an interdisciplinary network through a grants program funded by the John Templeton Foundation. Twenty-eight scholars and journalists were competitively selected to pursue two-year investigations, and with those projects now complete, the conference offered an opportunity to look back at the wide variety of scholarship supported and to look forward to further exploration and continued collaboration.

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

Held at the Italian Academy at Columbia University, “Why Prayer?” brought together grantees with leading academics and journalists for a series of panels and roundtable discussions. The first day focused on prayer as an embodied act, prayer machines (one of several interdisciplinary collaborations resulting from NDSP working groups), and the psychological study of prayer. A Prayer Expo highlighted material and multimedia aspects, including exhibits on praying dolls, spirituality apps, electronic prayer aids, and other religious artifacts. On the second day, attendees pondered the possibilities and pitfalls at the intersection of prayer and journalism, considered prayer as a theoretical construct and as a political force, and reviewed preliminary findings on praying as a source of social bonds. Events concluded with a plenary session on the productive friction generated by tensions in the category of prayer itself.

Visit Reverberations—NDSP’s Webby-nominated digital forum—in coming months for interviews and other materials from the “Why Prayer?” conference as well as ongoing analysis of the study and practice of prayer by NDSP grantees and others, including new features on Jewish prayer and on prayer and environmental change.

In Council News

The Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project released North Korea Chronology: 2014 [PDF], the latest installment in a series tracking events, negotiations, and media coverage surrounding North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. A resource for those reporting on, researching, and responding to developments on the Korean Peninsula, the annual chronologies date back to 2001.

The African Peacebuilding Network published the latest in its series of APN Working Papers: “Toward a Community of Practice: ECOWAS and Peace and Security Policy Communities in West Africa,” by Olawale Ismail, head of research at International Alert in London [PDF available].

In an article for the Huffington Post, Measure of America codirectors Kristen Lewis and Sarah Burd-Sharps connected findings from the program’s most recent human development report, A Portrait of California 2014–2015, to the need for a broader national campaign to combat domestic violence in the United States.

Measure of America statistician Rebecca Rasch joined the program’s codirectors in a commentary for the Carnegie Council publication Policy Innovations that highlights the pivotal role that civic engagement mechanisms like unpaid volunteering can play in curtailing youth disconnection, as revealed in a research project with Opportunity Nation.

Broadband Adoption in Low-Income Communities, an SSRC study commissioned by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), was cited in a Huffington Post article on the growing inequality of Internet access in the United States.

The Education Research Program’s volume Academically Adrift was referenced in a New York Times article on the relationship between tuition and enrollment at US research universities: “How to Raise a University’s Profile: Pricing and Packaging.”

Board member Michael D. Kennedy drew on historical examples from the SSRC in his book Globalizing Knowledge: Intellectuals, Universities, and Publics in Transformation, now available from Stanford University Press.

At PsychologyToday.com, New Directions in the Study of Prayer grantee Christine Wicker interviewed fellow NDSP grantee Ebenezer Obadare about his research on the intermingling of Muslim and Christian prayer practices in Nigeria.

Abe fellow Sagiri Kitao (2011) published an article based on her fellowship research in Review of Economic Dynamics: “Sustainable Social Security: Four Options.” Fellow Etsuko Taketani (2002) drew on her Abe research findings in her latest book, The Black Pacific Narrative: Geographic Imaginings of Race and Empire between the World Wars, now available from Dartmouth College Press.

The Vietnam Program organized a workshop in Hanoi to analyze data from its longitudinal study measuring the results of Atlantic Philanthropies programming aimed at improving the commune health center system in rural areas of Vietnam, part of the Viet Nam Population Health Programme: Strategic Learning and Assessment project.

At a Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa fellows workshop held in South Africa, Harvard University professor John Comaroff gave a lecture on the waning of the common good as a concept, the commodification of ethnicity, and the sociology of criminology both in Cape Town and in Ferguson, Missouri [audio available].

From Our Forums

The Immanent Frame features a new Off the Cuff discussion on the Charlie Hebdo attack and related issues of freedom of expression and religious practice. In the ongoing Religion and Digital Culture series, journalist Tom Heneghan shares his experience with online commenters as editor of Reuters’ FaithWorld blog, and anthropologist and New Directions in the Study of Prayer grantee Tanya Luhrmann considers her digital readership.

On Deadline

Drugs, Security and Democracy Fellowship
Applications Due: March 2