Avenues for Future Research
HARVEY JAY COHEN & HAROLD G. KOENIG
In this final chapter, we summarize and prioritize research studies that are needed to further elucidate the relationships between religion, immunity, and illness. This information is based on both the chapters in this book and a recent conference at Duke University Medical Center that brought together the world's leading experts in psychoneuroimmunology (mentioned earlier) to discuss the future of research on religion and immune function. We now briefly describe what went on during that conference and then discuss areas of research that conference participants and chapter authors felt should have the highest priority.
The conference to explore psychoneuroimmunology and faith in human health was organized to allow each participant to describe briefly his or her area of research and to comment on the potential for future studies relating psychoneuroimmunology to spiritual and religious factors. An attempt was made to prioritize studies from the standpoint of both importance and practicality at this time. Though each conference participant approached the topic from his or her own research and personal point of view, a number of recurring themes and potential approaches did arise.
Because the immune response is part of the “stress response, ” one recurring theme was the need to study spirituality or religion as a potential moderator of the stress response in situations of high stress. This could include populations at risk for negative outcome from stress—for example, Scandinavians at high risk for suicide, Irish Catholics at high risk for alcoholism, HIV patients at risk for progression of their disease, the recently bereaved, the medically ill elderly, caregiver spouses of Alzheimer's pa-