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Close Ties, Intercessory Prayer, and Optimism Among American Adults: Locating God in the Social Support Network


  • Acknowledgments: The author would like to thank the JSSR editor and anonymous reviewers for their insightful critiques and suggestions. Data for this study come from the Portraits of American Life Study, a publicly available data set available at

Correspondence should be addressed to Markus H. Schafer, Department of Sociology, University of Toronto, 725 Spadina Avenue, Toronto, ON M5S 2J4, Canada. E-mail:


Prayer is often an interpersonal phenomenon. It represents not only a form of social support shared between or among people, but also a means of embedding an unobservable actor (God) within a conventionally observable social network. This study considers whether the receipt of intercessory prayer from close network ties is associated with future-oriented well-being. Analyses use social network module data from the Portraits of American Life Study (PALS), a nationally representative study of American adults containing a breadth of information not available in prior studies of networks, prayer, and well-being. Despite experiencing more instances of recent adversity (mental or physical health problem, financial trouble, and unemployment), prayed-for PALS respondents report the highest levels of optimism. Furthermore, the association between network prayer and optimism is robust to inclusion of individual-level indicators of religiosity. Finally, other forms of social support that an individual receives from his or her close ties do not explain the benefits of intercessory prayer.