Written by: Rebecca Toscano
Article source: religionunplugged.com

The COVID-19 crisis and increased political tension have created an unprecedented crisis. How are people responding?

In March 2020, Jeanet Sinding Bentzen of the University of Copenhagen released an academic study in which she found that Google searches for “prayer” increased across 75 countries as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In times of crisis, humans have a tendency to turn to religion for comfort and explanation,” wrote Bentzen. “The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. Using daily data on Google searches for 95 countries, this research demonstrates that the COVID-19 crisis has increased Google searches for prayer (relative to all Google searches) to the highest level ever recorded.”

The study goes on to detail an increased search for prayer across every continent and spanning nearly every religious denomination, excluding only Buddhism and Hinduism.

Critics of the study point out that an increase of searches for prayer doesn’t necessarily mean those individuals have increased their religious behavior or that more people are behaving religiously. Many of the searches could have come from people who were already religious but were suddenly disconnected from their churches and turned to Google to find resources, as reported in the Catholic Herald.

However, around the same time, Pew Research Center released a similar report which estimated that 55 percent of North Americans had prayed for an end to coronavirus.

We, at Behold, decided to conduct our own (albeit much smaller and more localized) study to see if the interest in prayer persisted after initial COVID-related lockdowns. 

In July, we used Google Surveys to question 104 Android users in the United States and found that 33.5 percent said they pray more often now than they did before coronavirus began to spread. Similarly, the largest percentage of respondents said they pray multiple times a day when they only prayed once per day or less at this time last year.

Whether these were already religious persons prior to the pandemic is not known, but in keeping with other studies, we saw an increased interest in prayer as well as an increase in prayer habits.

Thirty five percent of those surveyed also said they pray more as a result of recent political unrest in the United States and nearly 50 percent said they were interested in learning Christian meditative prayer, which they had not practiced before. This could imply that, as people continue to feel overwhelmed, they are looking for the type of mindfulness and stillness that meditation promotes. 

We conclude from our in-house study as Bentzon does from her research: “we humans have a tendency to use religion to cope with crises. And COVID-19 has proven no exception.”

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Date published: 10/09/2020
Feature image: In the United States, an interest in Christian meditative prayer has grown since the COVID-19 crisis, says a study done by Behold. Creative Commons photo.

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