By Eric Ferreri, News & Communications

Organizations are turning to prayer to help bridge differences among employees, according to a new study involving a Duke University graduate student.

The study finds that interfaith group prayer serves as a “bridging cultural practice” within multi-faith groups studied by three researchers including Brad Fulton, a PhD student in Duke’s sociology department.

Interfaith prayer builds bridges if diversity is acknowledged and accepted. (iStock photo)

Interfaith prayer builds bridges if diversity is acknowledged and accepted. (iStock photo)

The study, published this month in the American Sociological Review, consists of data from a national study of multi-faith community organizing groups.

Interfaith group prayers took place in about 75 percent of the diverse gatherings analyzed over two years. Those prayers are considered a “bridging cultural practice,”  a way to help people of disparate backgrounds find common ground.

Fulton acknowledged that prayer doesn’t work for all groups or organizations. But bridging practices aren’t just religious in nature. Some could involve food, sports or other activities. And he believes organizations that focus on the similarities of their people but ignore differences aren’t realizing the full benefits of diversity.

“It is risky to simply assume that people from diverse backgrounds will automatically work well together,” he said. “More diversity tends to correspond with more challenges. But organizations tend to be more effective when they engage, rather than avoid, the varied backgrounds represented in their workforce.”

Fulton is one of three co-authors of the paper along with Ruth Braunstein of the University of Connecticut and Richard L. Wood from the University of New Mexico.

Primary funding for the national study was provided by Interfaith Funders, along with secondary grants from the Hearst Foundation, Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Religious Research Association, the Louisville Institute, and Duke University.