Handbook of Religion and Health

Handbook of Religion and Health

Handbook of Religion and Health

Handbook of Religion and Health

Synopsis

What effect does religion have on physical and mental health? In answering this question, this book reviews and discusses research on the relationship between religion and a variety of mental and physical health outcomes, including depression and anxiety; heart disease, stroke, and cancer; and health related behaviors such as smoking and substance abuse. The authors examine the positive and negative effects of religion on health throughout the life span, from childhood to old age. Based on their findings, they build theoretical models illustrating the behavioral, psychological, social, and physiological pathways through which religion may influence health. The authors also review research on the impact of religious affiliation, belief, and practice on the use of health services and compliance with medical treatment. In conclusion, they discuss the clinical relevance of their findings and make recommendations for future research priorities. Offering the first comprehensive examination of its topic, this volume is an indispensable resource for research scientists, health professionals, public policy makers, and anyone interested in the relationship between religion and health.

Excerpt

Although Chapter 2 provides a more detailed history of the precarious and turbulent 8,000-year relationship among religion, science, and medicine, a brief overview will help set the stage for this book. Over the years, the discussion of whether religion has negative, neutral, or positive effects on health has been characterized by controversy. For centuries the religious establishment regulated and controlled science, medicine, and health care. This control was so complete in the Middle Ages that the church was the official body that issued medical licenses to physicians, and many practitioners in those days (particularly those who served the general population) were monks or priests. Even the nursing profession originally emerged from religious orders devoted to caring for the sick. Religious orders were also responsible for building and staffing the first medical hospitals almost 1,700 years ago, and many of the first hospitals that provided compassionate care (“moral treatment”) to the mentally ill, particularly in the United States, were built and run by religious groups such as the Quakers.

On the other hand, for thousands of years it was believed that physical and mental disorders resulted from demon possession or other spiritual forces and therefore must be dealt with in spiritual terms. In recent history, such views culminated in 1487 with the publication of Malleus Maleficarum, which officially sanctioned the persecution and burning of witches, many of whom had chronic mental illness or were suffering from acute psychosis caused by eating moldy bread (ergotism). The Inquisition, as it was called, lasted for more than 200 years; the last “witch” was decapitated in 1782 (Zilboorg & Henry, 1941).

Over the past 500 years the church's power has declined and the influence of medical science has increased, allowing the latter to break . . .

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