Prayer as Action: Expanding the Boundaries of Religious Practice


Location: C103 Hesburgh Center for International Studies



Tanya Schwarz

Kroc Institute Visiting Research Fellow

What are the meanings and roles of prayer for transnational faith-based organizations working in areas of peacebuilding, broadly defined? In international relations, and political science, more broadly, religious expression and practice are often assumed to be outside the realm of consequential and legitimate political action. In analyzing the meanings and roles of prayer for three faith-based peacebuilding organizations—Religions for Peace, International Justice Mission, and the Taizé Community—Schwarz uncovers how and why religious practices are included in the internal everyday activities of such organizations as well as in their transnational projects with local communities, other organizations, and governments. She demonstrates that, contrary to dominant assumptions about religious practice, prayer has a range of meanings and roles that are political, public, and part of peacebuilding “work.” Schwarz argues that practices like prayer cannot easily be categorized according to common analytical dichotomies of religious-secular, private-public, life-work, primary-peripheral, rational-emotional, and spiritual-physical, which are often relied on in international relations and development scholarship, as well as in governmental funding requirements for NGOs. Moreover, her examination of prayer shows how such dichotomous frameworks can neglect the critical roles that prayer and other practices can play in, among other areas, post-conflict reintegration projects, inter-religious bridge building, and psychological health.