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Most Americans pray for healing

(RNS) Prayer, a scholar finds, is no “fringe activity,” but rather a frequent form of treatment for medical problems.

(RNS) The vast majority of Americans have prayed for the healing of others and more than 1 in 4 have practiced the laying on of hands, a Baylor University expert reports.

“Outside of belief in God, there may be no more ubiquitous religious expression in the U.S. than use of healing prayer,” said Jeff Levin of the university’s Institute for Studies of Religion in an announcement of his findings.

Prayer, he said, is no “fringe activity,” he added, but rather a frequent form of treatment for medical problems.

“Interestingly, most people who use prayer for healing do so alongside regular medical care, rather than as a substitution, as has been presumed up to now,” Levin said. “Healing prayer is being used more as a complementary treatment rather than as an alternative one.”

Levin’s findings, based on analyses of the Baylor Religion Survey of 1,714 U.S. adults, conducted in 2010, were published last week (April 13) in the Journal of Religion and Health. They include:

  • 87  percent have prayed for healing for others.
  • 79 percent have prayed for healing for themselves.
  • 54 percent have asked for prayers for their health.
  • 26 percent have given a “laying on of hands” for healing.

The laying on of hands is a ritual, referred to in the Book of Acts, in which Christians place hands on the person who is the subject of prayer and invoke the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Levin said determining whether the prayers worked was beyond the scope of his research.