“Outside of belief in God, healing prayer might be the most ubiquitous religious practice that there is,” Levin said. “This might be one of the most prevalent forms of primary care medicine, and I don’t say that lightly.”
Levin found that almost 80% of Americans have prayed for their own healing, with almost a third saying they do so often. Nearly 90% have prayed for the healing of others, with more than half saying they do so often.
“The numbers are considerably higher than I would have imagined, and it’s fascinating to me,” he said. “There’s this hidden substrate of spirituality in this country, and by asking these questions, it uncovered something always there that was bubbling beneath the surface. This is not a marginal or minor expression. This is pretty ubiquitous.”
More than half of people said they have participated in prayer groups to help themselves or others heal from medical problems.
But Levin said he was most surprised that more than a quarter of Americans have practiced “laying on hands,” in which a person lays their hands on another to relay spiritual blessings.
“This blew me away,” he said. “This is more than just an alternative practice; this is kind of everybody. I think these findings cause us to re-evaluate what is normative and what is marginal. Maybe these practices are as normative as it gets, and to not participate, maybe, is marginal.”
What the study didn’t examine is whether prayer can actually help people heal.