Donate to RNS

Meta-analysis results indicate that student prayer has academic and behavioral benefits

William Jeynes

OXFORD, England — The results of a meta-study presented at Oxford University in a speech by professor William Jeynes are causing researchers to take a broader look at the benefits of student prayer in public schools. His meta-analyses combined the results of 13 studies on the effects of student prayer on both scholastic and behavioral outcomes. The results of the meta-analysis indicated that prayer by pupils in schools was associated with both higher academic achievement and better behavior among the school youths. William Jeynes, a Harvard graduate and Senior Fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, conducted the study. For twenty-five years, Jeynes has been conducting meta-analyses and examining nationwide data sets, with the goal of determining what factors improve student academic and behavioral outcomes. Jeynes notes, “The results are particularly intriguing, because of the sparse number of schools that practice giving opportunity for students to pray, reflect, or have a moment of silence in the schools. With all the stress that many children and adolescents are bearing due to COVID, death rates, the military tumult in Europe, and personal isolation, one would think that most nations would increase their allowance for setting aside some time to students to gather one’s thoughts, reflect, and pray.”

Jeynes continues by adding, “One of the results of the COVID pandemic is that there has emerged among many a new respect for the invisible realm. People appear to understand more than at any time in recent history that some of the most powerful forces in the world are largely invisible, e.g., the wind, electricity, and viruses.  Students begin the process of making some of the most important decisions of their lives when they are in school. If there is ever a time in which they need to calm and quiet their soul and seek guidance, this is the time period. When we raised our children, we often told them to make certain that they walk the straight and narrow, particularly during high school and young adulthood, because it is during this period that they will make some of the most important decisions of their lives.”

Jeynes offers some historical context to his findings by asserting: “Before the U.S. Supreme Court decisions of 1962 and 1963, that removed prayer from the public schools, a time of reflection was allowed in the schools. In 1995 Bill Clinton made a speech in Vienna, Virginia, just outside Washington D.C., in which he criticized public schools for not allowing moments of silence used for reflection in a way that is consistent with the child’s personal belief system. Such exercises can help a student conquer stress, handle their emotions better, and give them a sense of peace. As a result, acts of violence will be less likely to occur. Robert Leahy (2008, p. 1) makes a very poignant observation when he states, “The average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.” Students today need greater peace, not a higher level of anxiety. The results of the meta-analysis support the place for prayer and a moment of silence in the schools in order to foster an attitude in the schoolroom of love, peace, and joy. The results encourage schools and society to embrace these benefits.


William Jeynes
[email protected]

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Religion News Service or Religion News Foundation.