Magazine article Times Higher Education

Sacred Heart Transplants: Books

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Sacred Heart Transplants: Books

Article excerpt

Pamela Klassen assesses the spiritual dimensions of the spaces where we check in and out of life.

Paging God: Religion in the Halls of Medicine

By Wendy Cadge

University of Chicago Press

328pp, Pounds 52.50 and Pounds 17.50

ISBN 9780226922102, 2119 and 2133 (e-book)

Published 26 March 2013

Hospitals are spaces of birth and death, and of hovering between the two. For the acutely sick, they are disorienting and frightening places. For medical professionals, they are busy workplaces. In the gap between the expertise of doctors and nurses and the existential anxieties of patients are mixed emotions and strategies of interpretation, including those that invest suffering and healing with religious significance. Buildings where people traverse natality (Hannah Arendt's term) and mortality, are hospitals also sacred spaces?

Focusing on "formally secular" US hospitals, Wendy Cadge shows how spirituality travels visibly and invisibly for patients and professionals alike. While the chapel is the most obvious space of ostensibly neutral non-denominational spirituality and chaplains its most obvious purveyors, even some nurses and doctors invoke God when at the bedside or holding the scalpel.

Much of Cadge's book recounts the rise of chaplaincy and the work of contemporary hospital chaplains as a largely liberal Protestant movement - a dominance that may be partly attributable to her northeastern US focus. Despite their professionalisation beginning in the 1920s, chaplains still face resistance and indifference, and are often considered expendable when hospital budgets are tight. Developing a "spiritually vague" brand in an increasingly religiously diverse society, chaplains focus on helping patients, their families and hospital staff to deal with fear and desperation when facing illness and death. Some chaplains continue an older model of pastoral visiting and administering end-of-life rituals, or, as one Catholic priest declared, acting as "the sacramental SWAT team". Not wanting to be solely harbingers of death, however, many have become "spiritual care" professionals on the payroll, focused especially on intensive care. Armed with concepts such as "holistic spirituality" and with diagnostic tools such as "spiritual assessments", chaplains hope to de-Christianise chaplaincy by identifying spiritual needs in every patient. …

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