Corwin, “Lord, Hear Our Prayer”

Corwin, Anna. 2014. Lord, Hear Our Prayer: Prayer, Social Support, and Well-Being in a Catholic Convent. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 24(2): 174-192.

Abstract: This article examines intercessory prayer, specifically, petitions to the divine as they are performed in Mass and in prayer groups at a Catholic convent in the midwestern United States. It demonstrates that these petitions function on multiple levels. Petitions are designed primarily as a form of communication with the divine, intended to elicit divine aid. In addition to functioning as requests to the divine, the petitions function on a number of socio-communicative levels: first, as an index of the presence of the divine; second, as a means for individuals to communicate social support to copresent participants; and third, as a mode of peer socialization. Finally, these multiple functions of prayer provide spiritual and social support that may contribute, in the context of the convent, to the inhabitant nuns’ documented success in achieving physical and mental well-being throughout their lives.

Testing Prayer: Book Review

Brown, Candy Gunther. 2012. Testing Prayer: Science and Healing. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

By: Anna I. Corwin (UCLA)

In 2010, Candy Gunther Brown and her research team published a compelling and controversial article in Southern Medical Journal arguing that proximate intercessory prayer, performed in their study by Pentecostals in Mozambique, significantly improved the hearing and vision of a number of prayer recipients.  This claim – that prayer can heal – has been a flash point, setting off debates and controversies about the nature of prayer for generations.  This article was no different.  Brown’s book Testing Prayer: Science and Healing, sets out to reconcile some of the interest as well as the controversy Brown faced following her team’s empirical study of intercessory prayer.  She grapples with questions of whether prayer should be studied, how, and by whom.  Drawing on her background as a historian and ethnographer, Testing Prayer uses an interdisciplinary approach to address the question of efficacy, focusing specifically on global practices of Pentecostal prayer, and ultimately leading to a proposal for a multi-pronged approach to the study of efficacy in healing prayer. Continue reading

Corwin, “Let Him Hold You”

Corwin, Anna. 2012. Let Him Hold You: Spiritual and Social Support in a Catholic Convent Infirmary. Anthropology of Aging Quarterly 33(4): 212-230.

Abstract: American Catholic nuns have been found to age more ‘successfully’ than their lay counterparts, living longer, healthier, and happier lives. Two of the key factors contributing to the nuns’ physical and mental wellbeing are the spiritual support they experience from the divine and the social support they provide for and receive from each other in the convent. I argue that by integrating the divine into their everyday interactions, the nuns engage in phenomenological meaning-making process through which mundane care interactions are rendered sacred. This communicative process, I argue, contributes to the nuns’ overall wellbeing by providing an enriched form of care and support, thereby enhancing their end-of-life experience.

Corwin, “Changing God, Changing Bodies: The Impact of New Prayer Practices on Elderly Catholic Nuns’ Embodied Experience”

Corwin, Anna (2012) “Changing God, Changing Bodies: The Impact of New Prayer Practices on Elderly Catholic Nuns’ Embodied Experience.” Ethos 40(4):390-410.

Abstract:  I focus this study on changes in the prayer lives of U.S. Catholic nuns following Vatican II; widespread institutional change in the Catholic Church that, among other things, transformed U.S. Catholic nuns’ lives. In the article, I combine a phenomenological model of embodiment with narrative analysis to show how institutional linguistic prayer practices transform elderly nuns’ embodied experience as they age. Drawing on naturalistic video- and audio-recordings gathered over three years in a Catholic convent in the Midwestern United States, I show how changing communicative and embodied prayer practices following Vatican II have impacted U.S. Catholic nuns’ (1) understanding of the divine, (2) relationship with the divine, (3) embodied experience of the divine, and (4) how these changes have impacted their experiences of and interpretation of physical states including illness and pain. Overall, I offer insight into how changes in the nuns’ linguistic practice of prayer impact the nuns’ documented success in managing loneliness and chronic pain at the end of life.