August 19, 2005

Prayer in College Classrooms

Mary Magdalene, in a dramatic 19th-century pop...
Mary Magdalene, in a dramatic 19th-century popular image of penitence painted by Ary Scheffer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
At three different universities (two state universities and one private liberal arts school), I have witnessed college students praying during class. For the most part, I observed this interesting phenomenon prior to examinations, usually while the professor was preparing to distribute them. Most of the prayers were silent, and I inferred prayer from the bowing of the head, the position of the hands, and the mouthing of "amen" at the end. Other times, the prayer were at least partially audible. Much less common are the few instances I have seen in which the prayers were entirely audible and delivered in a histrionic manner so that other students could easily hear what was being said.

The students who did not pray (the majority in every case) typically either ignored the praying students or laughed at them, sometimes elbowing their peers and pointing out a praying student. Many seemed to regard it as silly as I did. As a student, my reactions included a combination of disgust, pity, and humor. As an instructor, I find the behavior silly but common enough that it no longer provokes strong reactions. I marvel at the arrogance that would lead someone to believe that their god would intervene by helping them do better on an exam.