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Building an Anthropology of Prayer by Brian Brijbag

Updated on July 6, 2020
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Brian S. Brijbag, Esq is a Florida attorney who practices in the areas of personal injury, health law, and business law.

“I ask God to make me whole”
“I ask God to make me whole” | Source


At any given moment, across the continuity of space and place, one can be assured that an individual is currently engaged in the act of offering up a petition to the divine with the explicit purpose of seeking favor for the positive relief of a physical or mental ailment. This ancient practice’s results have been responsible for both the failures of gods and conversely, the construction of grand monuments celebrating the deities’ faithfulness to its adherents. For many specifically in the Christian faith, Yahweh becomes real, remains there and takes an active role in the well-being on what may appear to be an insignificant cosmic matter.

In 1968, a small group decided that the growing area of West Hernando County, approximately 50 miles north of Tampa Florida, needed its own church in the Methodist tradition. That church, First United Methodist Church of Spring Hill (FUMCSH), sees themselves as expressive, evangelical and having a certain openness to the Holy Spirit, or the most abstract Christian concept of God, having an influence it their lives ( 10/12/2012). Central to this, the church places a great corporate and individual focus on prayer. To keep prayer in a prominent position, the church offers a prayer list, prayer chain, intercessory prayer ministry, healing (prayer) service, prayer walks, prayer shawls and weekly invitations for prayer during worship services.

Out of this church, many groups operate around the community in “cells.” These groups take the form of home Bible studies, fellowship groups or lifestyle training seminars. Often, they are split along age-related lines, but could also be topical or convenience based. For the purpose of this study, I spent time with a home Bible study group that is officially sanctioned by FUMCSH for the “college-age.” This gathering averages 8-10 participants each Friday night and made-up the primary focus of this group.

Research Objectives

This research project aims to examine the adherent’s personal understanding of the efficacy of prayer within the United Methodist tradition and in particular, within the small home Bible study group. When an individual within that faith tradition believes that God can intervene in a personal, intimate manner through the answering of their petitions requesting healing, will that same person exhibit a proclivity for absorption, or an “openness to absorbing self-altering experiences” in terms of consuming mental imagery (Tellegen and Atkinson 1974: 268-277)?

To this end, the aims and objectives of this research project are as follows:

  • To examine the adherent’s personal understanding of the efficacy of prayer.
  • To examine whether those of “high church attendee” will also exhibit a proclivity for “absorption” and conversely if those with “low church attendee” will also have a lower “absorption” score.

The research question of this project was developed to help satisfy the stated aims and objectives. This paper offers up this question of research:

  • Do people who report a belief in, and personal knowledge of, praying for a healing experience with the Divine also have a higher proclivity for absorption?

Rationale and Significance

Much work has been done concerning building an anthropology of prayer in terms to how healing is understood. Often it focuses on the effects of intercessory prayer and not on the individual’s personal understanding of their petitions and seemingly corresponding results. Conversely, due to the tedious relationship between religion and science, often studies evaluating prayer are viewed with skepticism from both sides and have difficulty getting funded. Much of the prevailing literature on the topic is not from a purely scholarly perspective but instead results from a theological bent.

This project is greatly indebted to the recent scholarship of Dr. T. M. Luhrmann, an anthropologist out of Stanford University. Dr. Luhrmann combined ethnographic data with empirical methods to identify the process termed “absorption” (Luhrmann, Nusbaum and Thisted 2101:66). From this Luhrmann evolved a theory concerning one’s experience with God that depends on the interpretation of those social and cultural variables that identify God, the practice (e.g., prayer), and the ability to respond to the practice, or proclivity (Luhrmann, Nusbaum and Thisted 2101:67). This project builds upon Luhrmann’s theory by refining the focus as it specifically relates to “healing”.

Anthropological theories concerning prayer emerge out of the body of literature from the anthropology of religion that sets learning “at the heart of the process of having faith” (Luhrmann, et. al 2010:67). This project falls squarely in line with anthropologist such as Saba Mahmood, Rebecca Lester, Charles Hirschkind and Anna Gade. These contemporary researchers are working to showcase how religious practitioners labor to develop certain skills that shape their faith experiences (Luhrmann, et. al 2010:67). From this it can be argued that language is at the center of Christianity and can be sufficient on its own standing to explain belief in God (Harding 2000:60). The religious actor must acquire cognitive and linguistic knowledge to interpret the presence of God (Luhrmann, et. al 2010:67). This places prayer as a learned behavior but this research seeks out a bio-psychological underpinning.

In regards to health, Dr. Christina E. Hughes examined prayer and its relationship to holistic health. Her case study seeks to examine the numerous theories as to the mechanism by which this healing, which apparently results from prayer, occurs (Hughes 1997:318). Hughes found that the prayer itself may stimulate healing as it brings about a relaxation response (Hughes 1997:321). The sense of self-efficacy that is gained through prayer may enhance the patient’s immune system (Hughes 1997:323).

Regardless of the context, we are reminded that, “at the heart of the religious impulse lies the capacity to imagine a world beyond the one we have before us” (Bloch 2008:2057).


The project will be conducted amongst the members of the First United Methodist Church of Spring Hill (FUMCSH) college-aged home Bible study. The church itself averages a weekly attendance of approximately 1000 attendees for its primary worship services. The Methodist faith is a mainline Christian denomination that does not over-emphasize divine healing. They teach the power of prayer in healing but also promote and support typical biomedical solutions. They would be less likely to take a faith-alone position on seeking healing than a more charismatic tradition. Yet FUMCSH offers a weekly “Healing Service” each Thursday morning at 11AM. At this service, leadership lays hands upon and anoints with oil those who present themselves as needing divine intervention. Included in the ritual is the believer’s own personal petition requesting divine power.

The college-age Bible study has a weekly attendance of 8-10 young adults with an average age of 22.8. Four of the regular attendees do not consider themselves members of FUMCSH as they rarely, if ever, have attended Sunday worship services on the main campus. The group is led by a recently married couple and also counts an engaged couple among its members. Five members of the Bible study also serve in leadership roles in the church’s youth ministry. Six are currently in college pursuing a wide range of degrees, two have completed college degree and two do not attend college at all. All participants are white, middle-class and have, at minimum, a high school education. For this project, I was able to secure the participation of the full attendees of the Bible study (N=10; 5 women and 5 men; mean age = 22.8 years).

Even though the home Bible study group is under the auspicious of the greater local church body, four out of the ten members are not otherwise connected to FUMCSH. For the purposes of this project this relationship, or lack of relationship, to the parent church served as the basis for the distribution of participants into categories of “high church attendee”(HCA) and “low church attendee” (LCA). Those that had a direct connection to FUMCSH (N=6; 4 women and 2 men) were found to attend at least two other weekly offerings of FUMCSH and are considered “high church attendee”. Those marked as “low church attendee” (N=4; 1 women and 3 men) had no connection to FUMCSH outside of the home Bible study.

Ethical Considerations

The major ethical concern of this project was the possible assumption that this project would result in the prescribing of religion as a sole treatment option (Magaletta and Duckro 1996:207). This project does not seek to devalue or remove the primary role of biomedicine. Instead it seeks to improve the biomedical model by offering up an explanation for the creation of a more holistic medical approach.

As it is an important method in this research project, it was important to determine if the Tellegen Absorption Scale, which is a psychological scale developed to measure “absorption”, does not simply overlap with the Methodist model of the experience of God. The Methodist church teaches the engagement in Ignatian kataphatic prayer (Miller 1997:134). This type of prayer asks one to be present in the imaginative prayer scene (Miller 1997:134). It asks one to focus inwardly on internal sensory experiences. If the questions on the scale are seen to be religious in nature by the participant than it offers no device for comparisons (Keane 2007:43). It only serves as an instrument that reflects what is already understood. Participants were asked how they learned to pray to offer up data to possibly combat this inherent bias.

Also, this project seeks to avoid the controversy surrounding the existence of the divine. This project neither argues for or against any deity. The existence of a deity does not have a bearing of the aims of this project because the root causes of any medical benefits are subjective. To the believer they will be God-driven. To the non-believer they will be brain-driven.

Auke Tellegen is Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota.
Auke Tellegen is Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota. | Source


Key to this project was the completion of the Tellegen Absorption Questionnaires, which give a value to the openness of the “non-concrete.” It measures “absorption”, which is a psychological term for a personality trait that seeks to measure an individual’s ability to absorb mental imagery. This research into absorption was developed by Auke Tellegen in the 1970’s to relate absorption to broader aspects of personality (Tellegen and Atkinson 1974: 268-277). It can be seen to measure such things as responses to certain stimuli, ability to summon up vivid imagery and altered states of conscious (Tellegen and Atkinson 1974: 268-277).

The Tellegen Absorption Scale was used by Luhrmann to construct her theory of prayer and evangelistic thought (Luhrmann, et. al 2010:66). For this project, the scale was used to specifically align absorption scores to church attendance and to see how that correlates to beliefs concerning healing. The traditional 2-point scoring system was used to place a value called “absorption score”. Ten participants of the FUMCSH sponsored college-aged Bible study completed the questionnaires.

To correlate absorption scales directly to beliefs concerning healing, those same subjects were asked to complete a semi-structured interview to gather data relating to issues of faith (LeCompte & Schensul 2010). In particular, the interviews were designed to create an understanding of beliefs about the existence of, and experience with, divine healing. The use of semi-structured interviews offered a mode of comparison similar to that used by Luhrmann (Luhrmann, et. al 2010:68).

To further fortify the aims of this project, participant observation techniques were employed in the main Sunday worship service (LeCompte & Schensul 2010). It was crucial to understanding the ethnographic data needed to fully support the argument of this project and was a method also employed by Luhrmann (Luhrmann, et. al 2010:66). This helped placed the data in the proper context.

In the same participant observation/semi-structured interview vein, a hybrid method of the “go-along” interview style was used with one participant from the Bible study group. This method allows “access to some of the transcendent and reflexive aspects of life lived in situ” (Kusenbach 2003:455). It helped remove certain environmental barriers to open up a deeper comprehension of one woman’s personal faith journey.

As well as the methods mentioned, the space used for group healings was also mapped to help identify the spatial impacts on the healing ritual in which prayer is a primary focus. This mapping was of the main worship space of FUMCSH, the space where many of the participants identify as their principal heavenly connection place.

Participant Observation - The Service

To properly supplement my research interests concerning Methodists and prayer, I attended a Sunday morning worship service at FUMCSH on September, 30, 2012. This particular service was promoted as the final in a series from the New Testament Book of James which would be built around the topic of prayer. The church is rather large with an average Sunday attendance of nearly 1000 worshipers. The main sanctuary resembles a sombrero, except without the bright colors and party inducing expectations. After parking in the grass, under the rim of a basketball hoop, I am thankful for the sign prohibiting any ball playing during service hours as my Prius would not take the beating well. The front doors of the main building are heavy and darkly tinted not allowing anyone to peer into the lobby without making the commitment to open the door. There is no pleated jacket volunteer to take that burden from me. Instead I grab the handle and step into a dimly lit space with a center console for numerous, multi-colored sheets announcing pot lucks, movies about penguins and something called a “Kingdom Man” study.

Making my way through the next set of thick wooden doors, I emerge into the main worship space and I am immediately struck by how massive the room seems. It extends impressively in all directions. I look up and wonder if man once again tried to reach God in a manner akin to the Tower of Babel. The sanctuary is multi-tiered and minimally adorned. Of noticeable exception is a set of vertical flags on the farthest right wall with words such as “salty service” or “intentional discipling” coupled with stick figures acting out corresponding scenes. The front of the church has a large, plain wooden cross on the primary wall with floor to ceiling stain glass on either side.

The cross seems to hover over what is the main focal point of the room layout. Each seat, and each aisle, leads one directly to the pulpit where all importance is seemingly given. The pulpit rises towards the center, surrounded by hundreds of people that will hang on every mortal word of the preacher. Lights illuminate the front of the stage and I half expect the Rolling Stones to burst from the back. Instead of Mick Jagger, a choir comprised of around forty robed senior citizens line up in rows with a stoic presence permeating their movements. A flutist began blowing into her reed the mornings advertised prelude of “Here I am, Lord.”

“I, the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry.

All who dwell in dark and sin, my hand will save.”(Schutte 1981)

People mill about and share pleasantries but the first notes of the flute act as a call to be seated and to be still. Once the instrumentalist relaxes her embouchure, Pastor Tony, a short, balding man with a deceptively high pitched voice, rises to the podium to welcome us to the service and presents a long list of announcements. From his accent it is apparent that Pastor Tony is a Yankee leader in a Dixie church. Throwing in a “ya’ll” at every invitation, his obvious attempts to mask his outsider’s place are met with chuckles.

The service continues with a mixture of song and prayer. The music is led by a male staff member of the church wearing a royal purple robe. The task of praying is often handed off to a member of the congregation. There is no indicator of what privileges one person in the audience over another in terms of leading public prayer. The selection process may be political or a measure of supposed giftedness. Regardless, it is quite obvious these petitions were prepared in advanced as they are read off a script with a muted passion.

“O how sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to trust His cleansing blood;
And in simple faith to plunge me
’Neath the healing, cleansing flood!”(Stead 1882)

Pastor Mike, the church’s senior pastor, reaches the pulpit around 45 minutes into the service and reads from James 5:13-16 with his southern drawl. Whimsical and folksy, Pastor Mike uses jokes with obvious punch lines to expound his interpretation of the meaning he claims God gave him directly. The divine message from the morning concerned what the sick must do. They must pray, and call upon the elders of the church to pray for them as well. It is sin, Pastor Mike cautions, that underpins sickness so one must confess those sins, and pray a prayer offered in faith, and God will heal them.

“The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (James 5:16 KJV)

It is after this that Pastor Mike invites those that need healing to come forward, kneel, confess their sins and be anointed with oil by the churches prayer warriors. The aisles are flooded immediately. The entire foot of the stage is four deep in seekers and sinners. The prayer team cannot keep up and an assembly line of anointing takes place that would make Henry Ford proud. It becomes so overwhelming that Pastor Mike tells those watching that they are welcomed to head home as he acknowledges that it will take some time to get to all those looking for someone’s divinely inspired touch.

The audience does not hesitate to file out, leaving a mass of wailers on their knees. I start to wonder if there is some faith formula that could quantify the piety of those that choose to beat the lines at Cracker Barrel versus those that will spend a good portion of their afternoon prostrated and hoping. Blended into the chaos is the organist. She plays the same four bars over and over again to a recessional meant to conclude a situation that may take an hour to recede. As she continues to nervously look towards the throng of people, I connect with her and empathize, and feel a twinge of guilt that I am free to leave.

By this time the lobby is empty. As I make last minute notes, I can still hear the organist playing her song. I walk towards the thick doors and the sudden sunlight startles me. It makes me wonder how much of what happens at the altar, on bended knee, survives once the heat of the day’s burdens brings with it the realities of the world on the outside of the sombreros’ walls.

“Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move;
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art;
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.”(Croly 1854)

Mapping - The Space

A church building inherently brings with it a solemn reverence in terms of functioning as a cultural space. Very specific expectations come with the activities that take place within the structure and any suggestion of deviating from the normal use can be met with fierce opposition. While a church complex may include multi-purpose buildings, the focal point of First United Methodist Church of Spring Hill (FUMCSH), and most churches, is the intentional apotheosis-designed sanctuary.

The entrance to the sanctuary faces the South, positioned away from the main road. It is the back of the building that serves as the billboard to the traffic along the four-lane road that runs to the North of the sanctuary. With ample handicap parking located around the building, the church seems equipped to handle a senior population. The large parking lot is referenced, but not completely laid out on the constructed map.

The large wooden doors lead into a spacious lobby. The area allows for comfortable mingling before and after a worship service. The center is occupied by an unmanned welcome desk that is littered with multi-colored flyers. The map is limited in that it cannot capture the wealth of visual imagery in the lobby area. The walls are adorned with banners and flags with cryptic sayings that seem to be part of the lexicon of FUMCSH. The use of the lobby, from its role in encouraging fellowship and informing the congregants, could be an entire study in itself which would result in a more detailed mapping of the space.

Three large wooden double doors open into the main worship space. The outlining layout of the church leads directly into the auditorium and the design of the auditorium leads directly to the stage and the stage has the pulpit at the foci. The ceilings are strikingly high, adding to the majestic sense of the room. A mapping of this space cannot capture the awe that the personal experience supplies. The walls are decorated with banners, giving clues to important concepts and teachings of the church, while a room for nursing mothers gave an impression that young families were valued. Key to the map is the large, floor-to-ceiling cross that sits directly against the back wall of the stage. It serves as an imposing figure, and a staunch reminder, of the centrality of the crucifixion and resurrection on whatever activities that take place under its shadow.

Key to the mapping as well is the positioning of the seating towards the stage, and more importantly the pulpit. Whatever action that takes place at the pulpit, from a sermon to healing, demands the focus of each person that occupies the space. The bench style seating allows for no option but to conform and face forward, while the ritualistic nature of the service dictates when the group sits or stands. This space purposely inhibits community interacting by forcing each congregant to face the front.

The steps leading to the pulpit were constructed to allow for the mass kneeling of practitioners who may be seeking healing or forgiveness. While teaching that God is right where the petitioner resides, the construction of the sanctuary silently hints that God can be experienced in a more powerful way at the foot of the altar. The map does not capture this dichotomy of truths as it needs the social context to be fully appreciated. This weakness results in a depiction that can be nothing more than white-washed sepulchers.

FUMCSH Map of Worship Space
FUMCSH Map of Worship Space | Source

Go-Along - The Person

Meeting shortly after the final Sunday morning service, the sanctuary quickly emptied its one thousand worshippers and now one half expected to see rolling cacti across the platform. I am meeting a young woman for a follow-up interview to take place at her home church of FUMCSH. I hope to learn more about her understanding and feelings concerning her personal prayers during the time of her mother’s sickness and eventual passing. I have also decided that since this church was a big part of her coping during that time that I would allow her to guide me through this space as we talk.

From my initial interview I learned that “Carly” was 21 years old and an Art major at the University of South Florida. When she was 16, her mother was diagnosed with cancer, succumbing to the disease four short months later. She also spoke at great lengths about her faith and about the role of her church family in helping her deal with this difficult time on her life. She prayed on numerous occasions for a miraculous healing believing that modern medicine would be of no help. She believed that, God does exist and that he could remove the cancer if it was within his plan to do so. She expressed anger that God allowed her mother to pass and also that her father moved on so quickly dating another woman less than one month after her mother’s funeral.

Our second interview begins at this point.

We meet in the lobby of a now empty church. Carly has on her Sunday best showing that she has a certain reverence for this morning’s proceedings that require a dress and heels. She quickly takes to pointing out seemingly small details – visitor sign-in book, rack of flyers for church events and prayer cards. I ask her if she ever filled out a prayer card. She gives a half smile and acknowledges that she has often. I feel like her response is part apologetic and part embarrassment. I point out her hesitation and tepid answer. She says:

“It just that, yeah I fill them out but people that don’t get it, they are quick to label you or judge you. I really don’t know what it is you believe or want so I am not sure if you would think it is all silly. I mean, when my mom got sick I filled out one of these cards every week. I put her on the prayer chain all the time. Every time I could, I made sure people were praying. I prayed myself but it was comforting to know others were praying too. Even when I knew she was going to die, praying helped me cope. I can’t say it gave me hope but it helped me not lose it myself.”

I assured her she was fine and all I wanted to do was listen to her story. I told her I appreciated the opportunity she gave me to learn more about her. As we moved into the main sanctuary, she brought me directly up front to the railing she would often pray at during and after the worship service.

“This is the spot I kneel to pray. Here I begged God to take the cancer away from my mom. In my thoughts, I screamed at him. When they told me it was terminal, I cried here about the fact that my mom wouldn’t see me in my homecoming dress or be at my wedding. Do you think that is selfish?”

“Not at all,” I replied.

“It is still hard trying to understand why he wouldn’t hear the prayers of a little girl who just wanted her mommy you know?”

After learning about her struggles with what she understood to be her own selfishness, I asked her if she thought that we had a right to a long, healthy life.

“Of course not. We aren’t promised to live to tomorrow but I still felt like I was owed this. Like God could at least give me a normal life with a mom that was there for me.”

As we walked around the outside of the building, I wanted to find out more about her relationship with the rest of the family. I wondered if part of why she wanted to believe, as a 16 year old girl, that God could remove cancer was because she it was a learned behavior.

“How was everything between you and the rest of your family?”

“Ugh. I hated my dad then and I hate him even more know. I know that isn’t very Christian of me but he’s an ass. Less than one month after my mom died he is dating another woman. They got married like eight months later. It was pathetic and a travesty to my mom’s memory. I had no time to heal and got all that crap thrown at me.”

“So did God not hear your prayers? Did he fail you? I mean, your mom wasn’t healed of cancer and then this stuff with your dad. Why do you think God allowed what he did?”

“I was angry at God for a long time. He didn’t fail me though. Sometimes he answers prayers in ways we don’t realize. My mom isn’t suffering anymore. She is in heaven in perfect peace and love.”

It seems that Carly was able to justify the outcomes of her prayers with the promises of the afterlife she clinged too. As we walked throughout the campus, she pointed out areas of learning, promise and hope. The room for the infants makes her smile at the prospect of newness and the senior adults cause her to contemplate longevity. What to me were books or rocking chairs placed to occupy otherwise bland space were to Carly stories and moments of laughter. I asked her if she still believes that God can heal.

“Certainly. Just because my mother passed doesn’t mean that God is any less powerful or caring. He is faithful to me in ways I cannot see. I mean, I am still here right? I thank him every morning for the gift of breath. He sustains me. Before my feet hit the floor, I ask God to make me whole.”

Analysis and Interpretation

In terms of analysis, the results of the Tellegen Absorption Questionnaires were scored using the traditional two-point system. The scale itself contains 34 questions and each “True” answer awards the participant one point. The results from the scale could than run between 0-34 with 0 being a very low absorption score while 34 would be the highest one could receive. This analysis was done using Microsoft Excel. Excel was used to also produce all the statistical data for the interpretation phase.

Since the Tellegen Absorption Questionnaire does not measure religiosity, the values were compared to the answers given during the semi-structured interview. The interview questions were coded and contrasted using Microsoft Word. Vignettes were selected for their applicability to the stated research question. Content was also parsed along the defined spectrum of “high church attendee” versus “low church attendee”.

Across all participants, the mean absorption score was a 21.20 (s=4.78). Females had a slightly higher score with an average of 23.00 while males were just below that at 22.60. Those coded as being a “high church attendee” had a mean absorption score of 23.50 while those placed into the “low church attendee” category had a mean score of 17.75.

Of note concerning the Tellegen results was the 100% agreement on question 32 - “Sometimes thoughts and images come to me without the slightest effort on my part” (Minnesota University Press 2012). In total, thirteen questions resulted in an 80% or better agreement amongst the ten participants. This shows that the difference in absorption scores between HCA and LCA hinged on the answers to 60% of the questions.

During the semi-structured interviews, those considered “high church attendees” consistently reported a belief in, and personal experience of, praying for the hope of healing. One participant, a HCA, reported praying for the healing of an infection that “went away without any medical treatment.” A 20-F told the story of a gymnast that she believed “God has been healing in his own time from a cracked skull.” Another 21-F talked about being in a car accident and that “I had a very real sense that God was healing me as I prayed.” Yet another said plainly, “I am here today, bones intact, not nausea and healthy because God answered my prayers for healing when I have been hurt.” This same participant, a 24-F, suffered a miscarriage and sees that injustice, not as a failure of god to answer her prayers, but one where “His will” played out.

For those seen as “low church attendees” , many reported not just a lack of belief in prayer as a treatment option but I disregard of prayer in general. Twice the participants flatly stated, “I don’t pray.” One, an 25-M, told of how he prayed for his sister to be healed of her neurological condition only to see god “do nothing.” Another LCA, a 26-M, linked his lack of belief in prayer to his many prayers when he was young concerning his parents getting divorced. “God didn’t answer those prayers so he obviously doesn’t care,” was his reasoning. Often the LCA would respond in a mocking way. The 20-F said she prayed for “God to heal my insane ex-boyfriend but he is still fucking crazy.”

The participant observation, with the go-along interview, give credence to the research objectives in that those that were HCA had their prayer beliefs formed in and strengthened by their attendance at FUMCSH. From banners promoting prayer, to altar calls for healing and prayer interwoven as a natural part of the worship service, someone with a higher proclivity for absorption would thrive at FUMCSH. Those without this psychological bent, like those LCA participants in this study, would avoid the pageantry of FUMCSH and might find comfort in a smaller group with a more concrete focus on applied teaching like the college-age Bible study. They would be more likely to report much of organized religion as a “show” that needed to be shifted through to get to the beneficial “meat” of moral living.

The data clearly supported the research question, aims of objectives of this project. Those considered “High Church Attendees” consistently reported a belief in and engagement with prayer for healing. They also scored above the mean on the Tellegen Absorption scale with a 23.50. Those categorized as “Low Church Attendees” routinely reported a disbelief in the ability of pray to aid in healing. They also scored well below the observed Tellegen Absorption Scale mean with a score of 17.75.

Based on these results, this project offers up these conclusions:

  • People found to be a “high church attendee” are more likely to report a belief in, and have personal knowledge of, praying for a healing.
  • People found to be a “low church attendee” are less likely to report a belief in, and have personal knowledge of, praying for a healing.
  • People found to be a “high church attendee” have a higher proclivity for absorption
  • People found to be a “low church attendee” have a lower proclivity for absorption

Outcomes and Contributions

This project is about understanding a world-view and utilizing that understanding to provide real-world benefits. That is in line with the goals of the discipline of Applied Anthropology. The contributions seem remarkably sensible. The physician learns more about the spiritual needs of the patient which than may result in the inclusion of religious leaders in providing encouragement as part of the overall treatment plan. This can only stand to provide an optimistic attitude and help relieve the stresses of life. Purpose and meaning can be understood to help deal with sickness or losing a loved one. Motivating a spiritual force along with the high-tech treatments of the biomedical world might help make people better and allow them to suffer less.

This project could be utilized, along with further research, to argue for a biopsychosocial model and its integration into the curriculum of today’s medical students. While maintaining a focus on the organic causes of disease, biomedicine should partner with and consider both psychological and social factors in terms of illness. In fact, complete patient treatment includes a consideration of all three underlining components.

This could serve as a portion of the proper understanding of the context and role a well-developed biopsychosocial model can have in healthcare. Often the types of issues this project addresses are avoided from the biomedical encounter due to multiple concerns. Physicians place a high priority on biomedical methods to treat disease, often may consider religious beliefs to be outside the boundaries of the physician/patient relationship and might desire to shy away from the seemingly emotional side of a physical issue. Results of this project can be replicated and built upon to improve the clinical patient interaction.

Sample Tellegen Absorption Question (Used by permission - University of Minnesota Press)

While watching a movie, a TV show, or play, I may become so involved that I may forget about myself and my surroundings and experience the story as if it were real and as if I were taking part in it.

See results


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Schutte, Dan
1981 Here I Am, Lord. Portland: Oregon Catholic Press.

Stead, Louisa M.R.
1882 ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus. From Songs of Triumph.

Tellegen, A., and G. Atkinson
1974 Openness to Absorption and Self-Altering Experiences (“Absorption”), a Trait
Related to Hypnotic Susceptibility. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 83(3):268-277

All passages of Scripture are taken from the 1611 King James Holy Bible

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Brian S Brijbag Esq


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