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How Prayer Solves Problems and Creates Them: Prayer as a Cultural Tool for American Evangelicals
American Evangelicals believe prayer can do a lot, both for themselves and for the world. Yet just as prayer solves problems for them, it also creates them. Two especially important problems are spontaneity and certainty: it’s important for Evangelicals to feel as though they “really mean it” when they pray and that they understand God’s will as they seek advice and guidance. In this talk, I draw on Heidegger and other studies of technology to think about how particular “cultural tools” become useful and habituated, and how they then create new problems which might or might not be solvable which the original tool in question. The historical basis of Evangelicals’ optimism about prayer also has important political implications for contemporary discussions of Evangelicals’ relationship to social problems, as it emphasizes the importance of spontaneity, authenticity, and individual relationships over more prosaic and traditional organizational structures.
Jeffrey Guhin is an assistant professor of Sociology at UCLA. His first book, forthcoming from Oxford, is titled Make Belief: When Morality Matters in Muslim and Christian Schools. The book is a comparison of two Sunni Muslim and two Evangelical Christian high schools in the New York City area. He maintains research interests in Islam, Evangelicalism, education, and sociological theory.