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Silent or spoken petition made to God or a god. Prayer has been practiced in all religions throughout history. Its characteristic postures (bowing the head, kneeling, prostration) and position of the hands (raised, outstretched, clasped) signify an attitude of submission and devotion. Prayer may involve confessions of sin, requests, thanks, praise, offerings of sacrifice, or promises of future acts of devotion. In addition to spontaneous private prayer, most religions have fixed formulas of prayer (e.g., the Lord's Prayer), often recited in group worship. The four prophetic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Zoroastrianism) prescribe a daily set form of individual prayer, such as the Shema, to be recited twice a day by every male Jew, and the Islamic salat, performed five times a day.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on prayer, visit Britannica.com.