The report, by Jeanet Bentzen, associate professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and executive director of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics and Culture, found that in March 2020, prayer searches reached their highest levels in five years.
Data from Google Analytics show that the increase began earlier this month, but did not begin to rise dramatically until the WHO declared the coronavirus a pandemic on March 11.
The report found that prayer searches tend to increase in countries recently affected by the pandemic and coincide with announcements showing increases in the number of cases of the COVID-19 virus. These increased searches also extend to the terms “God”, “Allah” and “Muhammad”.
Using Google Trends data on Internet “prayer” searches for 75 countries, he said he found that “the intensity of ‘prayer’ searches doubles for every 80,000 new cases of COVID registered-19″.
Bentzen argued that the increase in prayer searches probably indicates a greater number of people actually praying.
Global events trigger searches
He pointed to other global events where, locally, Google prayer searches increased: in Iran, the funeral of General Qassem Soleimani triggered the biggest jump in prayer searches in January. In Australia, the “Pray for Australia” campaign during the January bushfires yielded similar results.
Bentzen concluded that the pandemic is encouraging “religious coping”.
“The increased intensity of prayer replaces what the world has seen for years,” the report said.
“It is very likely that the increase in prayer will continue”
“COVID-19 is still far from its peak and has only just reached the developing world. Moreover, as more and more people lose their loved ones, the demand for religion is likely to increase. The increase in prayer is likely to continue.”
The findings were part of a draft study entitled “In Crisis, We Pray: Religiosity and the COVID-19 Pandemic,” released online March 30 for public comment.
Bentzen said the increase in prayer searches is likely the result of many factors, noting that many countries declared blockades or encouraged social distancing in mid-March, prompting churches to move their services online.
“One factor that pulls in the opposite direction is that COVID-19 resulted in the temporary closure of the church, to limit infection rates,” he said. “Therefore, part of the intense prayer searches may cover a movement from public to private prayer”.
“In times of crisis, humans tend to turn to religion to relieve stress and explain themselves. The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 is no exception,” Bentzen wrote in the summary.