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Prayer, God Imagery, and Symptoms of Psychopathology

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Researchers have shown a longstanding interest in the relationship between religion and mental health. Here, we outline a series of hypotheses linking personal prayer, images of God, and mental health. We then empirically test the hypotheses using data from an online survey of U.S. adults ( N= 1,629) conducted in 2004 by Spirituality and Health magazine. We find a positive correlation between both frequency of prayer and the perception of God as remote and several different forms of psychopathology; a perceived intimate relationship with a loving God is inversely related. The positive association between prayer and psychopathology manifests itself primarily among individuals who experience God as either (a) remote or (b) not loving. We also find an inverse correlation between prayer and psychopathology among individuals who believe that they are praying to a close (the inverse of remote) God. We discuss the implications of these findings for research on the religion-mental health connection and outline an agenda for future research.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Matt Bradshaw received his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Texas at Austin and is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC 27707. 2: Christopher G. Ellison is a Professor of Sociology in the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, TX 78712., Email: 3: Kevin J. Flannelly is the Associate Director of Research at the HealthCare Chaplaincy, NY 10022., Email:

Publication date: December 1, 2008

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