Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Resilience Processes during Cosmology Episodes: Lessons Learned from the Haiti Earthquake

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Resilience Processes during Cosmology Episodes: Lessons Learned from the Haiti Earthquake

Article excerpt

The Haiti earthquake of January 2010 serves as an anchor for a new field of research on the role of spirituality in international large-scale catastrophes. Using the case study of one Haitian grandmother affected by the earthquake as a microcosmic representation of the Haitian people, we build an interdisciplinary theory of spirituality in extreme contexts. First, we identify 2 management theory concepts that we found useful: "cosmology episodes" and "sensemaking processes." Second, through a comparative case study--juxtaposing our findings from the Haiti earthquake of 2010 with Weick's (1993) findings from the Mann Gulch forest fire of 1949--we elaborate on 5 resilience processes that collectively constitute the anatomy of a cosmology episode: anticipating, sense-losing, improvising, sense-remaking, and renewing (or declining). Third, we initiate a more advanced conversation by reinterpreting literature from the psychology of religion and spirituality related to cosmology episodes, by focusing attention on the dynamics of spirituality-imbued transformative pivots within cosmology episodes, and by exploring the role of divine inspiration in cosmology episodes such as the Haiti earthquake. Finally, we call for more interdisciplinary collaboration (e.g., psychology, anthropology, sociology, management, political science, and theology) on the complex topic of the role of spirituality in resilience processes during international cosmology episodes.


The 2010 Haiti earthquake left a devastating amount of damage in its wake: approximately 220,000 people dead; 300,000 injured; 105,000 houses destroyed; 4,000 schools damaged or destroyed; and over 1,500,000 people temporarily living in tents. Most deem this event a disaster not only because of the amount of destruction, but also because the destruction occurred in the least developed country in the Western hemisphere; thus, resources for recovery were sparse (O'Grady, Orton, Schreiber-Pan, & Wismick, 2013).

In July and August of 2010, our team of researchers went to Haiti to study the psycho-social-spiritual impacts of the disaster on survivors and to provide emotional and spiritual support services. One of the sites that we visited was a tent community primarily supported by a local faith community. The first day we arrived at the tent community in July of 2010, we were greeted by a psychiatrist who had been providing services since the earthquake. He asked me (O'Grady) if I would be willing to meet with a particularly concerning member of the community. For the past 6 months he had been providing counseling and antidepressants, yet she seldom emerged from her tent and cried nearly every day.

The woman shed tears as she showed me pictures of each of her children and grandchildren and lamented that they had all been killed in the earthquake. Through the aid of a trusted interpreter she stated,

   I have lost all of my children and grandchildren to the
   earthquake. I am a mother and a grandmother. That is
   my identity. Now what am I? It seems my only purpose
   now is to live a good life and wait to join them in the eternities
   when I die.

I carefully looked at and responded to each picture and, listening attentively to the older woman's story, I validated her experience of loss. I also acknowledged the value of her belief in an afterlife in keeping her alive. I asked her to share more about the role of her faith during this difficult time.

She explained that she felt that God loved her. She then despondently stated, "I believe he wants me to love and serve my family while on earth, but they are not here anymore." I reflected back to her, "Your belief that God loves you seems to bring you some comfort. You are also expressing a belief that he wants you to serve others and that this service has brought you joy in the past." I then offered a suggestion,

   You have experienced a great deal of loss. … 
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