beth israel deaconess medical center a harvard medical school teaching hospital

  • Contact BIDMC
  • Maps & Directions
  • Other Locations
  • Careers at BIDMC
  • Smaller Larger

Find a Doctor

Request an Appointment

Smaller Larger


Posted 5/9/2016

Posted in

  We all know the old saying: There are no atheists in foxholes. I have long suspected that there are few atheists, or at least few who haven't thought about God, who have received a cancer diagnosis. It is close to impossible to receive a diagnosis of a potentially life-ending illness without beginning to think about eternity.

  There is a new study from Baylor that suggests that most Americans pray for healing, for recovery, for health, and that more than half have participated in a laying on of hands ritual. Here it is:

Most Americans pray for healing; more than
one-fourth have practiced 'laying on of hands'

People pray for others' health more than for their own, Baylor study finds

Nearly nine of 10 Americans have relied upon healing prayer at some point in their lives, praying for others
even more than for themselves, according to a study by a Baylor University epidemiologist.
"The most surprising finding is that more than a quarter of all Americans have practiced laying on of hands --
and nearly one in five has done so on multiple occasions," said Jeff Levin, Ph.D., M.P.H., University Professor ofEpidemiology and Population Health and director of the Program on Religion and Population Health at
Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion.
"Outside of belief in God, there may be no more ubiquitous religious expression in the U.S. than use of healingprayer," Levin said.
The findings also suggest that prayer may be among them most widely used forms of treatment for medical
problems, rather than a "fringe activity" as many people might believe, he said.
The study is published in the Journal of Religion and Health. Findings are based on analyses of data from the
third round of the Baylor Religion Survey, a nationally representative population survey conducted in
partnership with the Gallup Organization in 2010.

And here is another perspective from a large study published in 2006:

Long-Awaited Medical Study Questions the Power of Prayer

Prayers offered by strangers had no effect on the recovery of people who were undergoing heart surgery, a large and long-awaited study has found.

And patients who knew they were being prayed for had a higher rate of post-operative complications like abnormal heart rhythms, perhaps because of the expectations the prayers created, the researchers suggested. 

Because it is the most scientifically rigorous investigation of whether prayer can heal illness, the study, begun almost a decade ago and involving more than 1,800 patients, has for years been the subject of speculation.

The question has been a contentious one among researchers. Proponents have argued that prayer is perhaps the most deeply human response to disease, and that it may relieve suffering by some mechanism that is not yet understood. Skeptics have contended that studying prayer is a waste of money and that it presupposes supernatural intervention, putting it by definition beyond the reach of science.

Long-Awaited Medical Study Questions the Power of Prayer


Add your comment