Theology, Human Sciences, and Health

How does spirituality shape understanding of health, disease, and the structures of medicine, and how may biological processes influence spirituality?

This program aims to identify ways in which religious and spiritual traditions underlie and shape healthcare institutions and the professional formation of medical professionals.  It seeks to characterize the ways in which institutional structures and socialization processes make spiritual care of patients infrequent in the medical setting even within critical illness.  The program explores pursuit of these questions with a critical eye on the nature of knowledge and research.  It explores the feasibility and potential benefits of collaborative partnerships across academic disciplines and its impact on beneficial discovery and the creation of knowledge. (See prior publications)

Faculty: Michael Balboni, Tracy Balboni, Gregory FricchioneCheryl Giles, Ahmed RagabDavid Silbersweig


The Spiritual and Religious Characteristics of Physicians and Associations with End-of-Life Medical Utilization

Physician wellness and physician religious/spiritual characteristics may influence important patient outcomes including the quality of communication surrounding end-of-life issues and medical decisions made by patients facing life-threatening disease.  Few data exists examining how antecedent physician characteristics are associated with patient outcomes.  This project aims to describe if physician well-being and physician religious/spiritual characteristics influence end-of-life outcomes among advanced cancer patients.  The proposal adds supplemental physician survey information to the NCI/NIH-funded Coping with Cancer II study—a prospective, multi-regional, racially diverse cohort study of 600 advanced cancer patient—assessing end-of-life communication and medical outcomes in the final month of life.  The project determines prospectively if there is a relationship between physician characteristics and patient outcomes including communication effectiveness, treatment goal attainment, quality of life, reception of palliative care, receipt of aggressive care, and costs.  The study also explores potential interactions between demographic and religious/spiritual characteristics within physician-patient relationships.  Funded in part by the Program on Religion and Medicine, University of Chicago and the National Cancer Institute. 

Spirituality and the Hidden Curriculum in Medicine

The project aims are 1) to characterize medical student and chaplaincy trainee perceptions of the institutional and socialization processes within health, 2) to reflect on the moral and spiritual transformations experienced during the course of training in healthcare setting, and 3) to assist students in a healer’s lifestyle that is grounded within values revealed in the student’s own spiritual tradition. The The project’s goal is to understand how health care institutions and socialization processes (the “hidden curriculum”) might lead to moral and spiritual impoverishment (e.g., patient objectification, loss of compassion, spiritual isolation, etc.), and to constructively imagine an intellectually and existentially stimulating socialization experience engendering transformation in trainees moral and spiritual lives as they enter health care practice.  Supported by the John Templeton Foundation.