73 Prayer Practices in 2023


All recruited participants (N = 57) were enrolled in one of two religious studies courses at the same university with the same professor. Students choose their own enrollment, so the participants self-selected into the intervention and comparison groups. Participants were not recruited into these courses, so the sample should be considered a convenience comparison sample. Of the 61 students enrolled in the two courses, 57 (93%) agreed to participate in the study and 38 (62%) were included in the analysis. Of the 38 participants who completed the second survey, 25 (44%) completed all three surveys (56% attrition rate) over the course of the seven-week study.

The mean age of the participants was 19.4 years (SD = 1.08). Of the 25 participants who completed the final survey, 9 were men (36%) and 16 were women (64%). Forty-two percent of the participants were Asian (n = 8), 42% White (n = 8), 10.5% Hispanic or Latino (n = 2), and 5.3% Middle Eastern or North African (n = 1). In terms of religious identity, 43.5% of participants were atheist or agnostic (n = 10), 21.7% Catholic (n = 5), 13% Christian and not Catholic (n = 3), 8.7% other (n = 2), 4.3% Hindu (n = 1), 4.3% Buddhist (n = 1), and 4.3% Jewish (n = 1). When asked about their familiarity with CP at Time 1, 16% said they had done CP in the past (n = 4), and 4% reported currently regularly practicing CP (n = 1) (Table 1).

Table 1: Participant demographics with descriptive statistics

| Demographic | Percentage | Number |
| Age (mean) | 19.4 years | – |
| Gender | | |
| Men | 36% | 9 |
| Women | 64% | 16 |
| Ethnicity | | |
| Asian | 42% | 8 |
| White | 42% | 8 |
| Hispanic or Latino | 10.5% | 2 |
| Middle Eastern or North African | 5.3% | 1 |
| Religious Identity | | |
| Atheist or Agnostic | 43.5% | 10 |
| Catholic | 21.7% | 5 |
| Christian (non-Catholic) | 13% | 3 |
| Other | 8.7% | 2 |
| Hindu | 4.3% | 1 |
| Buddhist | 4.3% | 1 |
| Jewish | 4.3% | 1 |
| Familiarity with CP at Time 1 | | |
| Done CP in the past | 16% | 4 |
| Currently regularly practicing CP | 4% | 1 |


An intervention group was chosen from an in-person undergraduate religious studies course that requires CP as part of the curriculum. The course curriculum included CP as an assignment, and students were required to do the practice both in class and on their own time. A comparison group was selected from an in-person undergraduate religious studies class taught by the same professor, and this course did not require any contemplative practice as part of the curriculum. Students at this university are required to take religious studies courses, but they may select specific courses from a broad selection.

Participants received an announcement through their online learning management platform inviting them to participate in a study on the relationship between contemplative practice and wellness. The announcement included a link to an online survey, and the instructor for both courses repeated it once at the beginning of a class. The announcement was repeated at Times 2 and 3, and participants also received an email reminding them to complete the second and third surveys at each respective time. Participants were offered extra credit in their respective religious studies course for their participation, and those who did not wish to participate could receive extra credit in other equally convenient ways. Both groups of participants completed the initial pre-intervention survey before the CP group was trained to do the practice. Then, the CP group learned CP over a 1.7-h class period, following Cynthia Bourgeault’s training method (Bourgeault, 2004). They began by learning other grounding techniques such as counting meditation. The instructor told the class that practicing CP might do the following: lead to greater acceptance or patience for self and others, deepen their relationship with their deity or deities, make it easier to act morally, or do nothing at all. Participants could choose whether to practice CP theistically or non-theistically for the rest of the academic term, and they could choose their own sacred word. They were asked to practice CP at least five times per week on their own outside of class in addition to regularly practicing in the classroom. Each time was expected to be a minimum of five minutes but could be as long as desired. When practicing in class, the instructor led a brief stretch and allowed students to calm and ground themselves before beginning the practice for roughly five minutes. The comparison group was in a different religious studies course with the same instructor, and they were not asked to practice CP, nor were they informed about what it was. The instructor led a brief grounding exercise once at the start of the study but otherwise did not require students to use contemplative practices. As part of their course, participants in the comparison group did practice emotional management techniques, particularly when a religion in the curriculum was upsetting.

The instructor required both groups of participants to write graded journal entries pertaining to their respective course content. In the comparison group, journals were related to readings for the class, including emotional reactions to the readings. In the CP group, students wrote journal entries about how their CP practice was going and how they perceived their level of serenity.

Centering prayer practice

Participants completed three surveys in total, all containing the same questionnaires. At Time 2 (after 3 weeks) and Time 3 (after 7 weeks), both groups indicated approximate weekly means for how many times and for how long they had practiced CP and other contemplative practices over the course of the study.

Participants were not monitored regularly to confirm that they actually practiced CP, so data on the frequency of their practice depended on responses to a survey manipulation check. All participants were asked how many times, on average, they practiced CP per week and how many average minutes they spent practicing CP per week over the seven-week period. About a third (i.e., 37.5%) of the participants reported not doing any CP at all (n = 9), 8.3% reported doing 1–15 min of CP per week (n = 2), 16.7% reported doing 15–30 min of CP per week (n = 2), 25% reported doing 30–60 min of CP per week (n = 6), and 8.3% reported doing 60 min or more of CP per week (n = 2). Of all participants, 20.8% reported doing CP between 1 and 5 times per week (n = 5), 12.5% reported doing CP 5–10 times per week (n = 3), 20.8% reported doing CP 10–15 times per week (n = 5), and 8.3% reported doing CP over 15 times per week (n = 2). One participant from the group that was not required to practice CP did practice and reported practicing 1–5 times per week for 1–15 min per week on average.


Participants responded to self-report surveys containing scales assessing compassion, religiosity, mindfulness, hope, meaning in life, satisfaction with life, depression, stress, and anxiety.

Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS)

We used the Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS) to measure life satisfaction, a key component of subjective well-being (Diener et al., 1985). The scale has five items (e.g., “In most ways my life is close to my ideal”) and uses a 7-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree). It has shown test–retest reliability and internal consistency (Diener et al., 1985; Pavot & Diener, 1993).

State Hope Scale (SHS)

The State Hope Scale (SHS) was created and validated to assess hope situationally, whereas before it was conceptualized as a personality trait or disposition (Snyder et al., 1996). According to Snyder, hope is defined as the process of thinking about goals, the motivation to achieve those goals, and the ability to successfully accomplish them. The SHS has been found to have good internal consistency (α = 0.81) and factorial validity (χ 2 = 4.53, p = 0.21; df = 3) (Martin-Krumm et al., 2015). The same study also found that the SHS has good internal reliability, so both subscales are correlated (Martin-Krumm et al., 2015).

Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS)

The Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MASS) is a 15-item questionnaire used to measure trait mindfulness (Brown & Ryan, 2003). According to the authors of the measure, mindfulness is open or receptive awareness and attention and concerns quality of consciousness. It is deliberate attention to the present moment, and in the development of this scale, it was understood as a naturally occurring characteristic for which most people have a baseline. Each item is a first-person assertion. Participants responded on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (almost always) to 6 (almost never) about how frequently or infrequently they have particular experiences that can indicate the presence of mindfulness. A review reported that the MAAS has a one-factor structure and indicated support for test–retest reliability (ICC = 0.81) and internal consistency (Cronbach’s alphas ranging from 0.78 to 0.92) (Park et al., 2013).

Depression Anxiety Stress Scale (DASS-21)

The Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scale (DASS-21) was used to measure levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. It consists of three scales designed to measure these emotional states and their changes over time (Lovibond & Lovibond, 1995). Participants indicated to what extent statements applied to them over the past week on a 4-point Likert scale ranging from did not apply to me at all to apply to me very much or most of the time. Higher scores indicate higher levels of depression, anxiety, and/or stress. Studies have indicated that the DASS-21 is appropriate for undergraduate students in the United States (Kia-Keating et al., 2018).

Santa Clara Brief Compassion Scale (SCBCS)

To measure levels of compassion, we used the Santa Clara Brief Compassion Sale (SCBCS; Hwang et al., 2008), a shortened version of the Compassionate Love Scale (CLS; Sprecher & Fehr, 2005). The SCBCS consists of five self-descriptive items answered on a 7-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (not at all true of me) to 7 (very true of me). Participants responded to items such as “I would rather engage in actions that help others, even though they are strangers, than engage in actions that would help me.” The measure was significantly correlated with the CLS (r = 0.96), indicating strong convergent validity (Hwang et al., 2008).

Meaning in Life Questionnaire (MLQ)

The Meaning in Life Questionnaire (MLQ) assesses individuals’ degree of presence and search for meaning in life, which are considered indicators of well-being (Steger et al., 2006). It yields two scores, one for search and one for presence of meaning in life. It is a 10-item measure in which participants indicate how true statements are about themselves on a 7-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (Absolutely true) to 7 (Absolutely untrue). Items include statements like “I am always looking to find my life’s purpose” and “I have discovered a satisfying life purpose.” The MLQ reportedly has adequate construct validity and test–retest reliability, meaning that it does consistently measure both a search and a presence for meaning in life (Rose et al., 2017). The MLQ appears to be valid and reliable across sociodemographic factors (Naghiyaee et al., 2020).

Santa Clara Strength of Religious Faith Questionnaire (SCSRFQ)

To assess religiosity, a shortened version of the Santa Clara Strength of Religious Faith Questionnaire (SCSRFQ) prompted participants to rate how true five statements were for their own faith (Plante et al., 2002). For example, participants answered if the statement “my faith impacts many of my decisions” applied to them on a 4-point Likert scale. The longer version has 10 statements rated on a 7-point Likert scale (Plante & Boccaccini, 1997). This questionnaire is preferable because it appears to minimize bias towards any particular faith tradition. It has been shown to have high internal consistency, test–retest reliability, and convergent validity (Storch et al., 2004).