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The Hidden Ear of God

The Hidden Ear of God

A Comparative Anthropology of Prayer in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism

By Stephen C. Headley

242 pp

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About the Book

The Hidden Ear of God is a Christian exploration of prayer through its verbal icons and iconic words. It brings together theology and social anthropology, which have been enemies far too long. By studying “prayer in its own right,” the author seeks to understand how prayer is transfigured in authentic dialogues between God and man, where the initiative is divine. After exploring the Hebrew psalter and the five daily Muslim prayers (salat), Indian devotional prayers (bhakti) are presented in the words of their poets. A brief chapter on Buddhism examines the relationship between Buddhist chant and prayer in Christianity. In a final chapter, conclusions are offered concerning the advantages of studying non-Christian prayer by stepping off from Christian revelation.


“Fr. Stephen Headley writes as both a social anthropologist and an Orthodox priest: these qualifications lead him to explore the experience and practice of prayer in different religious traditions in all their particularity. His background in social anthropology lends acuteness of empirical observation, while his vocation as priest means that prayer is approached with a rare empathy. This book constitutes an astonishing achievement, leading to hard-won insights into the variety of prayer, as well as the characteristic genius of the religions discussed.”


author of The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition and Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology

“We do not see or hear with the ear of God when we pray. Thus at the heart of Christian practice in prayer, and not at its margins, lies a reserve, an openness to a transcendent universal we can never grasp. On this basis, Stephen Headley attempts a Christian theological anthropology of prayer in other faiths. By combining anthropology in both the doctrinal and ethnographic senses, he offers us nothing less than a new sort of non-secular universalism for which it is Christian specificity itself that opens to the universal in a different way. What a sensitive, subtle, and remarkable achievement.”


author of Theology and Social Theory, co-author of The Politics of Virtue

“Stephen Headley has had a long and distinguished career as one of Southeast Asian studies’ most accomplished scholars of religion in general and Islam in particular. In this new book, he brings all of his impressive intellectual breadth and originality to bear on what he aptly describes as a ‘Christian anthropology of prayer.’ The approach is comparative, moving across Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism. In each instance, Headley aspires to treat religion and prayer ‘in their own right,’ exploring both not as the product of secular powers or social disciplines, but something deeper and more transformative because oriented toward what a prayer petitioner hopes to become. The range and depth of erudition Headley displays in engaging each prayer and faith tradition are breathtaking. In an age in which anthropologists and other scholars of religion have begun to put aside the shibboleths of modernist social science, this is a welcome work of astonishing originality and spiritual beauty. It is also a work that should be read by all anthropologists, scholars of comparative religion, and anyone intrigued by the challenge and reward of standing within a faith-tradition so as to more deeply understand another.”


Professor of Anthropology and Global Affairs, Boston University

About the Author

Stephen C. Headley (1943–) is an Orthodox priest (Moscow Patriarchate) who studied theology at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary (New York) and l’Institut St. Serge (Paris). After a BA and MA in oriental studies at Columbia University (1965, 1969), a diploma in Sanskrit philology at the EPHE (4th section, Paris; 1972), and a doctorate in social anthropology at the EHESS (Paris, 1979), he did research at the CNRS (Paris) from 1981 to 2008. Currently, with two other priests, the author serves in the Orthodox parish in Vézelay (France). His most recent books are Du Désert au Paradis: introduction à la théologie ascétique and Christ after Communism. Spiritual Authority and its Transmission in Moscow Today.

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