Interdisciplinary

Spirituality and health research has not reached its full potential because of conceptual, methodological, ideological, and disciplinary concerns that have minimized its integration into the academy.  First, major conceptual issues plaguing research has included vagueness and lack of consensus concerning research definitions (e.g., “religion,” “spirituality,” and “health”) and simplistic hypothetical models depicting the relationship of spirituality/religion and positive health outcomes.   In addition, a lack of methodological rigor within the field has led to what are often contested study designs, poorly conceived survey methods, and statistical analyses failing to account for confounding factors.  This has decreased confidence within the scientific community of the quality of evidence advanced thus far by research in the field.  Third, research in spirituality and health has been fraught with ideological tensions associated with controversies surrounding religion in Western societies.  For example, while some remain deeply skeptical that religion is being advanced under the guise of science, others are concerned that religion is being co-opted by a scientific hegemony.  These differences create obstacles to the pursuit of knowledge and application of best practices to public health policy, care at the bedside, and religious community self-understanding.  The study of religion/spirituality and health is fraught with major ethical and practical concerns that have not yet garnered significant scholarly reflection and writing.  Finally, pursuit of spirituality and health research has been overwhelmingly performed by isolated scholars and small teams of researchers who have approached their study from within a single disciplinary and methodological framework. While this is a general tension across the academy, it is a particularly vexing concern at the intersection of religion, health, and medicine because of the complexity of the subject matter.  Not only do traditional academic disciplines—theology, psychology, sociology, historical studies, epidemiology, or medicine—lack methodological resources and explanatory models to understand the multifaceted relationships involved in religion, spirituality, health, and illness, but each discipline is arguably insufficient to study even its own disciplinary locus apart from considerable collaboration with other disciplines.  Consequently, the conceptual, methodological, and ideological problems plaguing the advancement of knowledge in this area may be largely symptoms of current disciplinary barriers characterizing the creation of knowledge.  In light of these issues, our initiative is committed to creating and sustaining interdisciplinary research teams tasked to engage issues of health, illness, and wellbeing.  We are optimistic that if the silos are broken, major discoveries for human flourishing await.