“We were interested in how people responded to heavy combat. In the face of heavy combat during WWII, an individual soldier likely prayed by himself. However, that emphasis on prayer, and the shared negative experience with others, ends up resulting in soldiers having increased church membership and attendance, particularly if they saw their military experience in negative terms,” wrote Craig Wansink in an email.

“What surprised me about that data was that in heavy combat not only was there greater trust in power beyond this–or the soldiers’ immediate–world, but there also was less trust in personal and nationalistic ideals. During war, soldiers may be motivated by appreciation of freedom, by hatred of enemies, or by the desire to go home, but during times of heavy combat, those factors decrease in significance and soldiers increasingly turn to prayer. What surprised me was not just that the emphasis on prayer dramatically increased, but that reliance on other ideals radically decreased,” noted Craig Wansink.

The paper, forthcoming in the Journal of Religion and Health (no DOI or citation yet), notes that no causality can be assumed. “We can’t claim, for instance, that combat made soldiers religious or, conversely, that religious soldiers hated combat,” said Brian Wansink.