Anna Louise Strong.

A consideration of prayer from the standpoint of social psychology online

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A Consideration of Prayer from the Standpoint
of Social Psychology


Submitted to the Facalty of the Graduate School of Arts and Literature

in Candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

(Department of Philosophy)




Cbe 'mnivcrsitB of Cbtcago


A Consideration of Prayer from the Standpoint
of Social Psychology


Submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School o( Arts and Literature

in Candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

(Department of Philosophy)







The writer wishes to express her gratitude to Pro-
fessors Tufts and Mead, and Ur. Ames, of the Uni-
versity of Chicago: to Dr. Ames for the material
which originally suggested the problem; to Professor
Mead for the course in which the point of view
here assumed was first outlined; and to Professor
Tufts for his unfailingly sympathetic aid in the ar-
rangement of the final form of the thesis and its
preparation for the press.

^ QO ',"^2


r. Introduction. The Essentially Social

Character of the Self 9

The self as a construct in consciousness. How self-con-
sciousness is attained. The "Imaginative Social Process," —
in the child as type of the total process of reflection, in the
adult as type of the initial stage of reflection, that of "emo-
tional evaluation.'' A difference of degree, not of kind. The
question of objective reference stated in general.

Prayer as a form of the "Imaginative Social Process," i.
e., a means for the construction of a self. The completely
social type of prayor arising through the gradual discrimina-
tion in consciousness between personal and non-personal
means and ends. The two tendencies in the completely so-
cial type. Tiie contemplative or "aesthetic." The practical
or "ethical."

11. Undiscriminating Forms of Prayer. The

Child and the Primitive Man 25

The undiscriminating nature of the immature conscious-
ness : no clear distinction of personal and uou-personal. re-
ligious and non-religious needs. The beginnings of the "sci-
entific" discrimination, based on efliciency. The ethical dis-
crimination, based on the distinction between the needs of a
partial self and those of the widest "social" self. The needs
of the partial self satisfied either by magic as vs. religion,
or by a non-ethical polytheism.

TIT. Intermediate Types. The Growth of Dis-
crimination 45

Prayers in whieh so-called "objective" results are sought,
and attained indirectly, through social means not explicitly
recognizetl as such, by (1) the establishment of a more con-


fident self. (2-) a different interpretation of the environment,
(3) various specific forms of subconscious activity. Prayers
for the cure of disease.

IV. The Completely Social Type of Prayer.

Its General Characteristics 61

Prayer is a social relation between two selves arising
simultaneously in consciousness, and has as end the estab-
lishment of a wider self. The fundamentally social nature
of consciousness, illustrated by the demand for strengthening
sympathy, self-expression, ethical criteria.

V. The Two Tendencies in the Completely

Social Type. The Contemplative or

' * Aesthetic " 71

The two tendencies in every social act — the aesthetic and
the practical, i. e.. the tendency to rest in the experience
itself and the tendency to pass as quickly as possible into
action. The social nature of the aesthetic satisfaction.
Einfuh]un(/s-theorif. Nirvana, the mysti( trance ; the ex-
treme at which prayer passes first into aesthetic contempla-
tion and thence into unconsciousness. Less extreme ex-
amples of this tendency. Ritualistic Prayer. The general
psychological characteristics of this form : surrender of the
self of immediate desire and the consequent attainment of
peace through reliance on a specific organization of sub-
conscious activities.

VI. The Two Tendencies in the Completely

Social Type. The Practical or ''Eth-
ical" 93

The tendency in every social act to pass as quiclcly as pos-
sible into action. The limiting of the function of prayer to
the production of a strictly ethical result. The extreme at
which prayer passes first into moral action and thence into
habitual, i. e., unconscious activity. Less extreme examples
of this tendency. Prayers for conversion. Moral reinforce-
ment through the establishment of a wider, more truly
ethical self. Indirect attainment of this end through the


idea of a mighty ally. Diivct increase of strength through
unification of aim. and reliance on the more regularly eflS-
cient subconscious activities.

VII. The Type of Reality and the Objective

Reference Involved in Prayer 110

The "Personal Idea" as ultimate social reality. The con-
ditions under which the subject-object distinction arises and
the nature of the objective reference. The "object" as neces-
sary conditioning means to a required end. Extent to which
a dynamic unity may be posited of the "object" in prayer.

Prayer from the Standpoint of Social Psychology


In this discussion of the psychology of prayer I
shall use as point of view not the standpoint of
physiological psychology, which may appropriately
be termed "individual" psychology, but the stand-
point of the so-called "social psychologj^"/ I
shall first state what I take to be the essential re-
quirements of this point of view and then outline the
general effects which it has on the psychology of
prayer, before proceeding to a consideration of those
effects in detail.

From the standpoint of consciousness, man begins
as a social being; he does not acquire society. This
was not recognized by some of the older ]isycholo-
gists, according to whom the child first acquired a
perception and knowledge of the world around him,
and then, discerning certain objects in that world
which did not seem to come under the usual Inws of
the place, attributed personality to them. Anthro-

' This view of "social psychology" is drawn partly from Cooley's
"Human Natiiro and tlio Social Order." and finds most of its nltiraate
foundations in the published works of Professors Dewey. Baldwin,
and occasional passaces in .Tames, together with unpublished lec-
tures by Professor Mead.


pologists, following this view, deduced man's re-
ligion from primitive attempts to solve various theo-
retical problems which were supposed to cause great
perplexity to the mind of savage man: as for in-
stance, why certain natural forces acted irregularly,
or why he himself could be in one place in his dreams
when his companions assured him that he had passed
the night in another place.

This point of view was reasonable as long as the
mind was regarded as a separable indi\ddual sub-
stance, capable of "having states", dowered with
certain inalienable possessions, among which a most
important one was the craving for philosophic ex-
planation. Each primitive man, then, became a
Descartes, deducing the universe about him from the
one assured fact of the existence of his self, a self
of which apparently he had full cognizance.

As a matter of fact, the self, for the child and
for primitive man, is as truly a construct in con-
sciousness as is the physical world. We recognize
as much in our adult introspection, which assures
us that we progressively define ourselves only by
defining other parts of the total content of con-
sciousness. The self, at least any ''self" which we
define and distinguish from the other facts of our
world, is not something which "has" consciousness,
but something which arises in consciousness.

And the consciousness in which it arises is of a
social type. We do not begin with a consciousness
of a physical world, and infer personalities; we


begin ^dth social phenomena. It is natural that this
should be the case. For the point at which conscious-
ness first arises in the stream of unconscious activ-
ity is at the point of tension, the place where the
instincts fail to meet the satisfaction toward which
they ])oint, where something which cannot be con-
trolled by the immediate reflexes, meets the activity.
This is most often produced by the presence and
opposing activity of another person; it brings up a
problem and a problem is the beginning of conscious-
ness, since it is the first place in the life-process
where there is any demand for it.

From what we know of our adult consciousness,
this conflict first takes the fonn of an emotional dis-
turbance. It is a conflict of ends, that is to say, of
differing tendencies towards action. These ten-
dencies can either of them be identified with the
activity which until now has gone on unchecked ; this
fact gives them the j^eculiar proprietary feeling
which is associated with an emotion. The conflict
is not merely between two impersonal ends, but
between two different selves. Out of this conflict
arises the self which is to be the real one. the actu-
alized self. It is not as though the real self were
there all along and chose to identify itself with one
of two alternatives; rather, it comes to existence
only afterward, and is the result of the conflict. It
is the beginning of a self-consciousness, arising out
of a conflict of activities.

This is not merely a conflict which happens once


for all, somewhere back in the life of primitive man
or of the child. Self-consciousness is not attained
at any given period in the history of either the race
or the individual. i^Rather, as activity goes on, we
are continually attaining self-consciousness, and each
time it is the consciousness of a slightly different
self. If we do not fall back on the mechanical life of
habit, if consciousness exists at all in us, it is only
through this constant conflict, which takes the form
of a conflict of different selves and which results in
another hitherto non-existent self. That is to say,
the form of the conflict is always social in its nature.

This point must be insisted on. We do not per-
ceive the world because we have eyes and ears and
other instruments of sense-perception plus an inborn
desire to look at and listen to the world; we reach
even as far as sense-perception only through a
thwarting of impulsive activities which demands
that we "sit up and take notice." And this thwart-
ing comes about largely through social and personal

It would perhaps be too much to say that the con-
sciousness thus arising is in any developed sense
social rather than physical. But this much is evi-
dent. The consciousness of a social world is at
least as early as the consciousness of a physical
world. Even as we learn gradually to mark off our
physical selves from the |)hysical universe, defining
that universe by the relation in which it stands to us,
so we learn to mark off our social selves from the


social environment of other selves or "personal
ideas" that threaten to affect us.

Not only is the social problem at least as early
as the physical problem, but it receives, in the earlieii
stages of development, a much stronger emphasis.
The more important problems and the more import-
ant emotional responses are called forth by the pres-
ence of persons. Hence the social world stays per-|
sistentlv and forcefullv in consciousness. We ob-i
serve the signs of this in the mythological expres-
sion of the world of primitive men. Science and
the scientific temper is a very late development and
there are even now few people for whom it possesses
the importance of the world of personal relations.
And however elaborate may be the systems of sym-
bols which we finally employ in complex activities,
however abstractly scientific may become the ideas
which supersede the more concrete, less analyzed
personal ideas in the working out of a problem, the
beginning of that problem is always in a stage of
emotional tension, which is in its nature a conflict
of selves. The more intense the problem, the more
we realize the fact that the ideas contained in it are
]iersonal ideas. The difference between myself as
going into the next room and myself as staying
here is not an enormous one, though under some
conditions it might easily become so. But the differ-
ence between myself as scientist and myself as artist
is great enough to become a very real conflict of
selves. All strongly felt problems pass in their be-


ginnings through this stage of emotional tension and
evaluation, which takes the form of an imaginative
social process.

For the child, however, the imaginative social
process is not only the type of emotional evaluation,
but the type of the total working out of his prob-
lems. Difficulties he cannot solve for himself are
solved for him by persons. He has not himself that
development of personality which would enable him
to solve his own difficulties. For this would mean
a highly complex organization of ideas, complex
enough to enable a long process of reflection to go
on inside of that organization without reference to
the world outside. Such a system the adult devel-
ops ; the abstract symbols of reasoning take for him
the place of the more concrete, less manageable per-
sonal ideas, which are relegated to the beginning of
his problem. But the child's world is a deus ex
machina world; when things can go no further a
fairy steps in and sets them right. This is no miracle
to the child; it is the natural method of solution.
Things have to be "fixed" in some way; he does not
possess a sufficiently organized personality to fix
them himself ; it is done for him by the imaginative
social process of which he distinguishes himself as
one part. The difference is. one of control. The
novelist who cannot invent a situation which works
out its own inevitable solution is the novelist who
must introduce a deus ex machina.

Yet even here the process of solution is different


in degree rather than in kind. The ideas which for
the developed consciousness take the place of exter-
nal persons still possess traces of their origin as
personal ideas. But they are less concrete and more
specialized in function than the persons of the child.
Instead of being endowed, as is the fairy, with wings
and wand and golden hair and gauzy raiment, and a
lot of other perfectly irrelevant things, they have
only the amount of content necessary to the per-
formance of their function. This function per-
formed they sink out of consciousness and other
ideas take their place, each expressing one tendency
in the total conflict. The more abstract this process
is, or, in other words, the longer the process of
reflection before the resultant act, the more refined
and specialized do these ideas become, until they are
mere shadow>' symbols of the "selves" which once
they were. When an idea has only one function and
performs that function with perfect and regular
adequacy, we are no longer conscious of it as a per-
sonal idea. And in our consideration of prayer, we
shall see how the social relation, usually present in
prayer, may, by the loss of content in one or other
of the selves involved, be resolved into an aesthetic
satisfaction or a moral action, which, while social in
its origin, is no longer social for consciousness.

We have seen that when the unity of unconscious
activity is broken up by a problem of some kind, the
first result is an emotional disturbance. This dis-
turbance is social in nature, being a conflict of dif-


ferent selves, or personal ideas. There follows the
process of readjustment, of solution. This, for the
undeveloped personality, takes place also in terms of
personal ideas. Not that the child's consciousness
is in the last analysis more social than the adult's.
Both are occupied with the mechanics of the con-
struction of selves. But for the adult the process
is more complex. The immature consciousness is
one in which the process of reflection stops short of
complete adjustment, and hence gives mentally to
the elements of its world the concrete f onn of selves,
in so far as they are isolated elements. For in so
far as any object or phase of consciousness is not
made part of some larger systematic whole, it tends
to take on a personal form, the form of a self.

We begin here to see the reason why the imag-
inative social process is, as we have said, for chil-
dren the form of the total process of solution, while
for adults it is the form taken by a problem in its
initial statement and emotional evaluation. For the
mature consciousness goes from this stage to the
stage of reflection, and in reflection the elements
are no longer isolated contents and hence selves, but
are organized as parts of a larger systematic whole.
This merely means that they are under better con-
trol. The whole of which they are parts is still a
resultant act which gets its complete reality in per-
sonal form, that is to say, in a self. But a part is
not given mentally the value of a self. It is merely


a means with a defiintely marked fimction. The
])roces.s of abstraction has begun.

From this point on in the solution of tlie problem,
we part company with personal ideas, definitely rec-
ognized as such. What follows is a process of the
type of reasoning, in which systems of ideas and
habits cany on the problem to its ultimate solu-

Yet, even in this case, the process of solution
goes on under a social form. Thinking, even ab-
stract thinking, is in its very nature a conversation.
Most of our concepts of abstract thought are de-
pendent on language symbols. Until we take the
trouble to carry on a careful introspection, we are
largely unaware of the extent to which we use this
form of imagery. "The imaginary dialogue passes
beyond the thinking aloud of little children into
something more elaborate, reticent and sophisticated,
but it never ceases." "The mind lives in perpetual
conversation. ' ' ^

With further abstraction the detiniteness even of
the word-imagery disappears. In a field with which
the reasoner is familiar it is no longer necessary to
go through even so long a process as is employed
in the complete conversation setting forth both sides
of the argument. The beginning of a sentence is all
the task allowed to one of the couflicting selves, be-
fore the answer is flashed back from the other. These

' Coolo.v. "Human Nature and the Social Order," p. 52.


selves become the most shadowy things possible, the
correlates of imperceptible articulatory disturbances.
But as long as the reasoning remains reasoning, it
has the social form, however attenuated the social
content may become.

The end finally reached by this conflict is a solu-
tion expressed in an act. And action again is def-
initely social in nature. That is, it is the action of
a self, and of a particular self, a different self from
the selves that have been in conflict. It is a new self,
the resultant of the others. For it has become the
actualized self as over against the possible ideational
selves. We think of it as our own real self; we
even read it back into the struggle and think of it as
deciding the issue, because it appeared in the deci-

These final processes are not, however, consciously
social. Yet the difference is one of degree, not of
kind. The problem of the adult is capable of longer
reflective treatment and hence of a more symbolic
and abstract handling. For him the imaginative so-
cial process remains only as the type of emotional
evaluation, that is, of the beginning and definition
of his problem.

Yet even with the adult, there are relatively few
problems which run through this entire gamut: dis-
turbance, emotional evaluation, reflection, act. This
is the type of the complete process of solution, but
there are many short cuts in mental life. The emo-
tional evaluation is often the only evaluation


reached; action may follow quickly enough to make
any introspective search for an intermediate proc-
ess of reflection quite gratuitous. This is the type
of conflict which is given mentally the value of a
conflict of selves. It may still l)e compared, if we
so desire, with the type of reasoning of the imma-
ture mind. But there is this difference with the
adult: he does not use this imaginative social proc-
ess, this emotional evaluation, for all of his prob-
lems, as does the child. Greater discrimination pre-
vails. All problems of personal relations are solved
by this imaginative social process, followed or not,
as the case may be, by the logical process of re-

The question then remains : What part of the to-
tal situation in consciousness is set apart as "ob-
ject" and under what conditions is it so objectified?
And, secondly, under what conditions is the "object"
defined for consciousness as a self? In answer to
the first of these questions I shall refer especially to
Dr. Stuart's article in Dewey's "Studies in Logical
Theory," assuming with Cooley that when the dis-
tinction of subject and object arises, that which we
call subject is "some form of purposeful activity."
As long as "no conflict develops between motor re-
sponses prompted by dift'erent parts or aspects of
the same situation", consciousness "will not present
the distinction of objective and subjective". But
as soon as this conflict arises, it takes the form of a


tension between a purposeful activity and certain
conditioning means. Neither the activity nor the
means is at first fully defined; the process of solu-
tion is a process in which they mutually define each
other. The purposeful activity is, however, felt
throughout as subject; the conditioning means as
object. The latter must be regarded both as the ob-
stacle which interrupts the course of the activity,
and as the means through which the activity must
reach its end. It is the one because it is the other.

When, then, has this object a social character!
Under what conditions does it take on the charac-
teristics of selfhood? We have already seen that in
so far as any object in consciousness is not made
part of a larger system, it tends to take on a per-
sonal form. That is, any concrete whole, any object
which cannot be resolved into its relations with other
parts of consciousness, is given mentally the form
of a self. Some relations with those other objects
it must have, else it could not appear in conscious-
ness at all. But a self is not merely a part in a sys-
tem ; it is to some extent an isolated element, due to
a lack of complete adjustment in consciousness.
Complete adjustment depersonalizes the world;
moreover, complete adjustment passes over very
quickly into unconsciousness. But there are always
new problems, demanding new emotional evalua-
tions, new conflicts of selves; thus it is that con-
sciousness goes on.


" Prayer is a form of this imagiuative social process
which we have said was the type of solution for all
the problems of the child, and the tyjie of emotional
evaluation for the problems of the adult. Prayer is
the direct interaction of two selves, or "personal
idea.-^," arisins: simultaneouslv in consciousness as
the result of a tension. The end sought and at-
tained is the establishment of a wider self. One of
these selves or personal ideas is the nie, or self of
immediate purpose and desire; the other is objecti-
fied as alter. The alter is, as object, the necessary
means to the desired end, and this end is always an-
other self, differing both from the me and the alter,
and varj^ing infinitely as the particular problem
varies. The alter is, as personal object, an isolated
element, not yet a part of an effectively systema-
tized whole. The alters are not all the same alter;
neither are the me's the same me.

In children's prayers, primitive prayers, and a
small percentage of the prayers occurring among
adults, no distinction is maintained between per-
sonal and impersonal means and ends. The growth
of this distinction marks a stage in the discrimina-
tion of the use of prayer. And this discrimination
may take place in either or both of two ways. The
use of prayer in certain fields may cease because it

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Online LibraryAnna Louise StrongA consideration of prayer from the standpoint of social psychology → online text (page 1 of 7)