David Moberg: Appreciating His Half-Century of Scholarship

Article excerpt

The proliferation of writing about spirituality, religion and aging in recent years has created an important new conversation within gerontology. Researchers have refined their research designs and analytic methods, and they have found that even prestigious journals are willing to publish empirically sound work. In addition, work by practitioners discussing implications of spirituality and religiousness for healthcare, social work and counseling appears in many gerontological publications. Whereas once a person interested in this topic had to conduct a laborious library search yielding only a limited number of titles, today a few keystrokes can uncover over 50,000 entries on the Internet.

Although this proliferation is heartening to many, the sheer quantity of information can be overwhelming. Seekers of information on spiritual aspects of aging can benefit from the counsel of a wise and experienced teacher, such as David O. Moberg. Those who spend time with Moberg-either in person or through his writings---discover both his profound insight and gentle prodding to let go of their narrow vision and well-meaning biases.


Moberg's latest book, Aging and Spirituality: Spiritual Dimensions of Aging Theory, Research, Practice, and-Policy (Binghamton, N.Y.: The Haworth Pastotal Press, 2001) is attracting wide attention, and for good reason: In this 249-- page book, which he modestly claims only "scratched the surface" of the topic, Moberg has managed to cover an impressive array of significant issues.

The role of Moberg as teacher is underscored in two ways in this volume. First, in an unusual departure from most edited books, Moberg himself authored six out of the 16 chapters. Second, at least seven of the other chapter authors at some point in their careers attended Marquette University, where Moberg was professor of sociology from 1968-1991 and where he now has emeritus status. Thus, reading this book is like attending a semester in Moberg's seminar along with some of his most capable former students, who are now social workers, chaplains, healthcare administrators, educators for clinical pastoral care and other helping professions. This seminar-as-- text also contains an excellent index.

Anyone who thinks that the study of religion, spirituality and aging is brand new should be informed that Moberg's 1951 doctoral dissertation was titled "Religion and Personal Adjustment in Old Age." In it he determined that what mattered to adjustment was not membership in a religious organization; rather, the types of older adults' religious activities and beliefs contributed to what we now usually call spiritual well-being (SWB)-- a now-standard term Moberg is largely responsible, for developing. Although not the first to use this phrase, Moberg managed a remarkable compromise between theology and politics when he included it in a paper he wrote for the 1971 White House Conference on Aging. Since then, he has provided considerable leadership to researchers attempting to devise scaling instruments to measure SWB.


Knowing something about Moberg's background helps explain one of the more unusual aspects of this book. He attended and taught at Bethel College and Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., an educational institution of the Baptist General Conference that emphasizes an evangelical Christian philosophy of education and the integration of faith and learning. Bethel College's website states that "Biblical perspectives are applicable and enriching to the entire range of academic inquiry." Apparently, Moberg has held this value throughout his life: Throughout the chapters he contributed to Aging and Spirituality are numerous biblical references. For example, the chapter titled "Research on Spirituality" considers whether scientific and scholarly methodologies are consistent with biblical instructions on how to live.

By grounding the chapter in citations that he says offer biblical support for "evaluation" (Psalm 34:8; Proverbs 24:3-6; Jeremiah 6:27 and others) Moberg opens a question rarely asked by the research community: "Beyond the goal of expanding academic knowledge, is there any good reason to do research on spirituality? …