"We did not test whether people actually healed through prayer, but we did test how they themselves and how doctors explain their recovery. That experiential knowledge was central here."
Kruijthoff started his research after he came across a special case of healing after prayer in his general practice. He made an appeal and received 83 applications from people with a similar healing experience. With a medical review team, he examined 27 individual cases, and with 14 participants an in-depth interview was conducted. Of these, 11 were eventually judged 'medically remarkable recovery'.
Time relationship with prayer
"Medically remarkable healing is recovery where the clinical course is different than you might expect," says Kruijthoff. "Syndromes can sometimes improve, often in a wavy movement, but never so suddenly from one moment to the next. Moreover, in these cases there was a clear time relationship with a prayer. The symptoms of the disease had suddenly disappeared and did not return to most of them."
Yet the review team did not use the term "medically unexplained" in any of the cases. That is a deliberate choice, according to Kruijthoff: "Because in a number of cases people did feel recovered, and also permanently, but without the scans or other studies having improved. The latter was a big surprise for the team and as yet not understood. Or, as one of the participants put it very apt: 'My body does not fit into your medical textbooks'".
The patients who recovered after prayer had, for example, long-term hearing loss, Parkinson's, MS or Crohn's disease. Medical treatment helped little to nothing, their records showed. In addition, in the entire group of 83 applications, the researchers saw a striking pattern of sudden recovery from complaints, with often physical, emotional and transformative experiences that positively changed their attitude to life.
"If a sudden cure can't be scientifically proven, then how? We wanted to gain insight into this," says Tineke Abma, currently professor at the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC). "We did not test whether people actually healed through prayer, but how they themselves and how doctors explain their recovery. That experiential knowledge was central here."
The dissertation 'Healing after Prayer, an interdisciplinary case study' is based on six scientific articles in medical and interdisciplinary journals with proofing and review by independent experts. Scientists from several disciplines participated: in addition to the Faculty of Religion and Theology of VU University, academics from the Humanities and the medical faculty of AmsterdamUMC, location VUmc, are also closely involved. They examined both the experience data and the medical records, before and after prayer.
On Monday 24 April Dick Kruijthoff was awarded a PhD for this research at the Faculty of Religion and Theology of VU University Amsterdam.