What happens when people of different faiths pray together? According to Gandhi, prayer is a ‘longing of the soul.’ And when individual souls come together to pray—even when their languages or cultures or religions are different—they are longing for their God while also demonstrating peace, love, and unity with all of God’s children.
New research has found that interfaith prayer can be a powerful, binding force that helps a diverse group of people discover common ground and feel connected. For the study, published in the journal American Sociological Review, researchers observed the strategies that community groups commonly use to unite people of different religious and cultural backgrounds. The groups in the study were racially and socioeconomically diverse and consisted of people from many different faiths. More than half of the board members were non-white and earned less than $50,000 per year.
The groups, which would gather to address community social issues, conducted interfaith group prayers in about 75 percent of the gatherings during the two-year study period. In fact, the greater the group’s diversity, the more likely they were to include “bridging prayer practices,” such as prayer vigils into their regular activities. This makes sense because the greater the diversity in a group, the greater the challenges, says researcher Brad Fulton, a PhD student in Duke’s sociology department.
Prayer seems to play an important role in uniting people across significant racial and socioeconomic differences, says University of Connecticut sociology professor Ruth Braunstein. The groups in the study did this by “being inclusive of multiple faith traditions, celebrating the diversity of the group, and encouraging individuals to interact with each other,” she says.
The key to unity is in the acknowledgment and acceptance of differences. And organizations were more effective when they engaged, rather than avoided, the group’s varied backgrounds.
According to the researchers, interfaith prayer can be used as a bridge in many kinds of groups, not just community and civic associations; in fact, prayer can be used by any open-minded group looking to find commonality, from large companies to hobby associations to political groups.
Have you ever experienced interfaith prayer or joined in a moment of silence? Prayer has the transcendent power to connect people of different cultures, opinions and religions, but who still have at least one thing in common: a genuine ‘longing of the soul’ to communicate with God.