Psychoneuroimmunology and Religion:
Implications for Society and Culture
Howard L. Kaye
What if ongoing research in the new discipline of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI)—research of the sort discussed in this volume—succeeds in identifying the biochemical pathways by which spirituality and religious practice may exert a powerful influence on our health and longevity? What might the “implications” be for the practice of medicine and for the culture at large? How might a responsible physician use such knowledge and the mounting evidence of positive links between religiosity and health to benefit his or her patients? How might a health care system, hemorrhaging money yet leaving millions of citizens with inadequate access to care, respond to such an inexpensive therapeutic intervention, whose potential health benefits might be vast and whose costs and side effects are minimal?
At first glance, the “implications” would seem to be enormous. Just as responsible physicians properly concern themselves with the diet, lifestyle, and psychological well-being of their patients, it would seem to be only good medicine to examine the religious lifestyles of patients as well, encouraging them to increase their level of spiritual exercise and to improve the nutrition of their souls. As Gregg Easterbrook has argued in the New Republic, “Recommending religion … is quite pragmatic advice. Anyone can join a faith;attending services is a lot easier than quitting smoking”(1999, p. 23). But to successfully incorporate religion into the arsenal of medicine would seem to require considerable change in the prevailing attitudes and orientation of physicians toward the body and its infirmities. Rather than a purely technological approach to malfunctioning components in the body