by Angus Reid | May 7, 2016 8:30 pm
May 8, 2016 – While public religious expression has arguably been relegated from public space in Canada, prayer, whether personal, with family, or at a house of worship, appears to remain a prominent part of the lives of many Canadians.
A new survey, self-commissioned and funded by the Angus Reid Institute (ARI), finds a large number of Canadians do, in fact, engage in various forms of prayer on a regular basis.
Moreover, even those who don’t pray do see some value in this religious expression at the individual level.
Most Canadians choose to pray privately
As the many faiths Canadians embrace across this country are diverse, so too are prayer patterns. Despite some anxieties in religious communities about the fall of faith, it would appear that many Canadians continue to embrace prayer, however personal and individual it may be – and it is often personal.
Canadians are much more likely to have prayed privately, individually, at least once each week over the last year, compared to other prayer activities that they may engage in. One-third (34%) say they partake in personal prayer with this frequency, while, for example, just 14 per cent say they attended a religious service weekly.
In fact, more than half of Canadians (54%) say they’ve prayed privately in the last year, though the regularity with which they do is the subject of much variation. A much smaller group of 15 per cent say they “hardly ever” pray, though they aren’t necessarily dead-set against doing so.
The remaining one-third (32%) say they are disinclined to pray privately at all – asked how often they have over the past year, they say “never”.
One-in-five (20%) Canadians say they take time to pray daily, and an additional 10 per cent say, though they don’t pray every day, they still manage to do so several times each week.
The remaining quarter of the praying population is divided into smaller groups of roughly five-to-seven per cent, all of whom pray between once a week to less than once a month.
Older Canadians are much more likely to pray regularly. More than four-in-ten (43%) of those 55 and older say they’ve prayed once a week or more over the past year. This level drops with age – one-third (34%) of those in the 35-54 age group say the same, while just under one-quarter (23%) of the youngest group, 18-34, have prayed with this level of frequency.
The link between childhood and adult prayer
Prayer habits tend to be strongest in this country during childhood. In fact, nearly six-in-ten (58%) Canadians say they prayed once a week or more during this period of their life, significantly more than those who say they prayed as often during adolescence (41%), or as an adult. In fact, among adults in Canada, just one-third (34%) say they still pray at least once each week.
Interestingly, childhood prayer habits are strongly correlated with both the likelihood and frequency of prayer as an adult. Among those who prayed often as a child – that is, at least once a month – more than one-quarter (28%) report that they prayed daily over the course of the last year. Compare this with those who prayed less than once a month as a child, or those who did not pray at all. Among these two groups, just six per cent and four per cent, respectively, say they prayed daily this past year.
The inverse of this relationship also appears to hold. If a person did not pray during childhood, the chances they are going to pick it up in adulthood are slim. Of those who say they “never” prayed as a child, 86 per cent say they still don’t as an adult (see comprehensive tables for greater detail).
Additional prayer activities in Canada
There are a number of additional ways that Canadians engage in prayer, which help to paint a more fulsome portrait of religious expression in Canada. Respondents were presented with a number of “prayer activities” and asked which of these they have engaged in within the past year.
Though individual prayer is the most common activity – 34% do this once a week or more – almost one-in-five Canadians say they meditate (17%) or say grace at the table (17%). The graph below shows the propensity of Canadians to engage in prayer activity each week:
When each of these instances are considered together, a total of emerges of 42 per cent of Canadians who engage in at least one prayer activity each week. Additionally, a similar number report that they participate in “some prayer activity”, that is, at least one of these activities each month, but no more than two-to-three times. This leaves a relatively small portion of the population (15%) who do not engage in any religious or spiritual activity.
What does prayer look like?
When Canadians pray, they’re most likely to do so at home. Roughly three-in-four (74%) of those who have said a prayer in the last year say they “often” or “sometimes” pray at home. This compares to fewer than two-in-five (36%) who say they regularly prayed at a place of worship in the last year.
Canadians are much more likely to say they prayed “wherever they happened to be” than to say they prayed in a church, temple, or mosque:
This finding fits with the sort of informal approach taken by most Canadians who pray. Fully two-thirds (66%) of those who have prayed in the last year say they “often” or “sometimes” pray lying down. That’s three times as many as say they habitually pray while kneeling or sitting cross-legged (22% each).
Moreover, it’s not just in their location or their physical position that Canadians take a less formal approach to prayer. Roughly half (50%) of all Canadians who pray say their prayers consist of a personal conversation with God, rather than recitation of specific, memorized words.
Indeed, if Canadians recite specific prayers, they’re most likely to do so in the form of a personal conversation:
Why do people pray?
So what motivates Canadians reach out to a higher power? Respondents were asked to choose the top three reasons that drive them to pray. Two motivations rise significantly above the other options given – “to thank God” (52% chose this) and “to ask for help” (49%).
Interestingly, there is a substantial contrast between those who engage in prayer activities on a regular basis and those who do so sparingly. Those who pray regularly are much more likely to say that they pray to offer gratitude to God – nearly two-thirds (64%) do so. Conversely, among those who engage in prayer activities less than two-to-three times a month, only one-in-three (36%) say this is an important purpose of their personal prayer.
For Canadians who pray infrequently, the most-cited motivation for doing so might be seen as more self-interested. Six-in-ten (59%) supplicants from this group say they pray “to ask for help.” Significantly fewer individuals who pray regularly (42%) say this is one of their motives.
Other oft-cited purposes for prayer include attempting to help others (35%), seeking guidance from God (34%), and to find peace (30%). See the following graph for a full summary of responses and comparisons between these prayer groups. See comprehensive tables for a full list of purposes.
What do Canadians experience when they pray?
Praying can be something deeply personal and difficult to describe, but this data suggests there are certain commonalities that Canadians experience when they attempt to communicate with a higher power. For example, 71 per cent of Canadians who pray say they feel a deep sense of peace and well-being during prayer. 70 per cent also say they feel strengthened by the practice.
Again, those who pray more often are more bullish about the depth of their experience. Nearly nine-in-ten (87%) say they feel both of these sensations, peace and strength, while just less than half among the group who pray infrequently report the same (47% and 46% respectively).
Those with limited prayer activity express considerably more doubt than Canadians who pray frequently that they are, in fact, being heard by a higher power. Roughly four-in-ten (38%) say they experience “doubts about whether or not there is a God who hears” their prayers while praying, compared to just 22 per cent among the group who pray more actively. See comprehensive tables for a full list of experiences.
However they pray, and whatever they experience, most Canadians believe their prayers are answered at least some of the time, though just one-in-ten (11%) think God always responds to them.
The largest number of Canadians (44%) say they can count on a response to their prayers “sometimes”. However, within the group most likely to pray, more than half (53%) say their prayers are either always or often answered, five times the rate reported by those who pray less frequently.
For those who say their prayers aren’t always answered, the most common reason cited is that it’s “not in God’s plan.” Nearly twice as many choose this option as any other one, as seen in the following graph:
Does prayer add something to our lives?
In general, Canadians see prayer as something that enriches the lives of those who do it – as well as the broader community. Asked to consider whether prayer “adds something” to their own lives and to those of others, a majority of Canadians say it does:
This strong overall belief that prayer is beneficial to people’s lives and communities indicates that Canada is still very much a country that values people’s expressions of faith.
Looking at the data more closely, however, it becomes clear that Canadians’ perspectives on the value of prayer are far from uniform. Rather, they vary significantly depending on whether one is inclined to embrace or reject religious belief.
The least controversial perspective – that prayer adds something to the lives of those who pray – is shared by majorities of each group, but those who are inclined to reject religion are much less likely to say this is the case, as seen in the graph that follows.
Canadians are considerably more divided on whether prayer adds something to society more broadly. Though fully seven-in-ten (70%) believe this is the case, those who reject religion are not on board:
In a similar vein, when asked whether prayer adds something to their own lives, most Canadians say it does, but those who are inclined to reject religion are convinced it doesn’t.
Those who locate themselves somewhere in between embracing and rejecting religion are more likely to say prayer enriches their lives than to say it doesn’t, but they’re more divided on this personal question than they are on the other two:
Responses to each of these questions also break down along age and gender lines, with women and older people more likely to see prayer as a net positive in each case (see comprehensive tables):
The Angus Reid Institute (ARI) was founded in October 2014 by pollster and sociologist, Dr. Angus Reid. ARI is a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research organization established to advance education by commissioning, conducting and disseminating to the public accessible and impartial statistical data, research and policy analysis on economics, political science, philanthropy, public administration, domestic and international affairs and other socio-economic issues of importance to Canada and its world.
Click here for the full report including tables and methodology
Click here for comprehensive data tables
Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey
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