Religious Communities and Health

How do religious communities influence the experience and interpretation of health, illness and dying?

The program explores how particular religious traditions and moral communities formulate their religious beliefs and practices towards mental health, illness, and dying. Study topics include identifying the resources within a particular spiritual tradition that provide positive support and transformation when facing life-threatening illness and potential misunderstanding among religious communities over the goals and limits of medicine. The project also examines how virtue is characterized by religious communities in illness and in dying (e.g. "the good death") with special interest in shared commonalities and differences influenced by cultural assumptions. The project also spearheads new educational interventions for clergy and religious communities in the areas of mental health and end-of-life care.  Finally, we seek to create a constructive conversation on how normative theological and moral claims embedded within particular religious communities manifests itself among patients and medical professionals affiliated with a particular tradition as they receive or provide care within secular, pluralistic medical settings. (See prior publications)

Faculty: Jennifer Allen, Michael Balboni, Tracy Balboni, Cheryl Giles, John PeteetAmy Rex SmithDavid Williams


A National Faith Community Atlas on End-of-Life Spiritual Care:  Informing a Religious Community Educational Intervention to Address End-of-Life Cancer Disparities

This project qualitatively interviews an ethnically- and denominationally-diverse representation of clergy and faith community nurses regarding their attitudes, values, and practices in caring for patients facing terminal illness and conducts a first-of-its kind national survey of clergy on end-of-life spiritual care. The purpose of the project is to describe end-of-life spiritual care attitudes and practices of religious community leaders and to employ these data to inform the development of a spiritual care educational intervention for religious leaders. This intervention will be rigorously tested in a subsequent proposal and widely disseminated to clergy in the U.S. The aim of this educational intervention is to partner with religious communities to transform religious community spiritual care to terminally-ill congregants in a religiously-sensitive and medically-informed manner and ultimately reduce the receipt of aggressive interventions at the end of life, particularly among racial/ethnic minority patients. Funded by the National Cancer Institute.