Winter 2017 Session


Religion and Public Health

Site: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Course Director: Tyler VanderWeele

Course Description:

The course will give an overview of the current state of research on the relationship between religion and health. Over the past three decades, the research literature documenting this relationship has grown dramatically. Religious participation has been shown to have protective effects on all-cause mortality, mental health, cardiovascular health, cancer survival, and many other health outcomes. The course will review the research that has been done in this area, discuss some of the measurement and methodological challenges faced by this research, and explore future research directions in religion and health as well as questions of relevance to public health. Specific topics will include religion participation and longevity, religion and mental health, religious communities and health, and religion and spirituality in end of life care. Attention will be given throughout to questions of measurement, study design, and methodology, and the challenges in conducting rigorous research in this area.Course Prerequisite(s): ID538 or ID200 or [(BIO200 or BIO201 or BIO202&203 or BIO206&207/8/9) and (EPI201 or EPI208 or EPI500 or EPI505)]; may not be taken concurrently


Spring 2017


Spirituality and Healing in Medicine

Site: Harvard Divinity School

Course Directors: Gloria White-Hammond and John Peteet

Course Description:

This course provides students and resident physicians with a framework for understanding the spiritual dimension of lives of patients and of spiritual issues they will confront in the practice of medicine. These include patients? struggles with questions of faith, spiritual approaches to problems such as life threatening illness or addiction, as well as the physicians? personal commitments that underlie professionalism. Faculty will offer models for approaching these challenges, lead discussions using clinical examples, and facilitate opportunities for extra- classroom experiences, such as working with a hospital chaplain or with spiritual or faith-based programs of healing. Invited presentations from physicians of differing medical specialties, faiths and world views will explore the implications for your medical practice of various religious and secular traditions, and the role of the clinician in responding to spiritual needs. Guest physicians and faculty will also serve as resources for students as they develop their own presentations to the class. Reading material: Search B00630Z9NY Jointly offered as HMS ME 726M. Additional weekly meeting to be scheduled required for HDS students.


Insights from Narratives of Illness

Site: Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Course Director: Jerome Groopman

Course Description: 

A physician occupies a unique perch, regularly witnessing life?s great mysteries:  the miracle of birth, the perplexing moment of death, and the struggle to find meaning in suffering.  It is no wonder that narratives of illness have been of interest to both physician and non-physician writers. This seminar will examine and interrogate both literary and journalistic dimensions of medical writing. The investigation will be chronological, beginning with ?classic? narratives by Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Kafka, and then moving on to more contemporary authors such as William Carlos Williams, Richard Selzer, Oliver Sacks, Susan Sontag, and Philip Roth. Controversial and contentious subjects are sought in these writings: the imbalance of power between physician and patient; how different religions frame the genesis and outcome of disease; the role of quackery, avarice, and ego in molding doctors? behavior; whether character changes for better or worse when people face their mortality; what is normal and what is abnormal behavior based on culture, neuroscience, and individual versus group norms. The presentation of illness in journalism will be studied in selected readings from the New York Times? and Boston Globe’s Science sections, as well as periodicals like the New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, Harper?s, and The Atlantic. The members of the seminar will analyze how the media accurately present the science of medicine or play to ?pop culture.? The seminar will study not only mainstream medical journalists, but so called alternative medical writers such as Andrew Weil also. Patients with different diseases will be invited to speak to the members of the seminar about their experiences. Students will try their hands at different forms of medical writing, such as an editorial on physician-assisted suicide that would appear in a newspaper and a short story that describes a personal or family experience with illness and the medical system.


Magic, Miracles, and Prophets: Medicine and Religion in the Medieval Islamic World
Site: Harvard Divinity School

Course Director: Ahmed Ragab

Course Description: 

Along with herbs, pills and pastes of different tastes and colors, amulets, prayers and images of prophets and saints served as tools for healing and for medical care constituting a significant part of the landscape of medical practice. In the Islamicate context, `Prophetic medicine? was considered the most important representation of these types of ?religious healing.? Relying on sayings and deeds of Muhammad and his companions, volumes of prophetic medicine discussed medical questions and offered medical advice. From the ninth century to the present, this body of literature, accompanied by certain types of foods, herbs and other preparations, continued to survive in changing shapes and forms that reflected changes in medical knowledge and in the study of prophetic traditions. This course will investigate the traditions of prophetic medicine and ask questions about the relationship of medicine and Islam from the medieval to the modern period.


Growing Up in America: Loss, Trauma, and Resilience in Adolescent Development

Site: Harvard Divinity School

Course Director: Cheryl A. Giles

Course Description:

This course examines the developmental tasks of adolescents and considers the impact of trauma on healthy emotional, psychological, and spiritual growth. The role of family, schools, and community support as protective factors in fostering healthy adolescents is explored. Recent studies on brain development in adolescents and resilience are reviewed. Students are expected to do a close reading of the material and be actively engaged in discussions. Each student leads the course once during the term.