Prayer Healing: A Case Study Research Protocol

D.J. Kruijthoff, C. van der Kooi, Gerrit Glas, Tineke A Abma

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Context • Prayer healing is a common practice in many religious communities around the world. Even in the highly secularized Dutch society, cases of prayer healing are occasionally reported in the media, often generating public attention. There is an ongoing debate regarding whether such miraculous cures do actually occur and how to interpret them.
Objective • The aim of the article was to present a research protocol for the investigation of reported cases of remarkable and/or unexplained healing after prayer.
Design • The research team developed a method to perform a retrospective, case-based study of prayer healing. Reported prayer healings can be investigated systematically in accordance with a step-by-step methodology. The focus is on understanding the healing by studying it from multiple perspectives, using both medical judgment and patients' narratives collected by qualitative methods.
Setting • The study occurred at Vrije Universiteit (VU) and VU Medical Center (Amsterdam, Netherlands) as well as the general medical practice of the first author. Participants • Potential participants could be any individuals in the Netherlands or neighboring countries who claim to have been healed through prayer. The reports of healing came from multiple sources, including the research team's medical practices and their direct vicinities, newspaper articles, prayer healers, and medical colleagues.
Outcome Measures • Medical data were obtained before and after prayer. Subsequently, a member of a research team and of a medical assessment committee made a standardized judgment that evaluated whether a cure was clinically remarkable or scientifically unexplained. The participants' experiences and insider perspectives were studied, using in-depth interviews in accordance with a qualitative research methodology, to gain insight into the perceptions and explanations of the cures that were offered by participants and by the members of the medical assessment committee. The medical findings and participants' experiences were weighed and interpreted based on a transdisciplinary framework, including biopsychosocial and theological perspectives, with reference to a conceptual framework derived from Ian Barbour's typology of positions in the science-religion debate.
Conclusion • A case-based, research study protocol that compares medical and experiential findings and that interprets and structures those findings with reference to Ian Barbour's conceptual model is an innovative way of gaining deeper insight into the nature of remarkable and/or unexplained cures.
Original languageEnglish
Article number28987036
Pages (from-to)17-22
Number of pages6
JournalAdvances in Mind-Body Medicine
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2017


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