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During the past few years there has been a resurgence in concern with the role of religion and spirituality and health. Before that there were anecdotal reports, as well as a beginning awareness of the impact of other spiritual belief systems on human illness and growth. This can be seen in the non-Western treatment activities in a wide variety of cultures around the world.
In several instances, it takes a willingness to suspend judgement and be open to other paradigms of health. Many use the concept of balance, and a holistic multidimensional or ecological approach. Those belief systems, most familiar to me, combine much training, with the learning of a vast number of associated skills. Medicine men, healers, are now being constantly studied.
The challenge in the West, is to see how our Western belief systems have a place both for spirituality and religion. As we are Western trained hard scientists, we demand proof, using statistical analysis and concrete outcome studies. These have begun, with showing that membership in a religious organisation, as well group prayer has resulted in improved outcomes.
Many wanted a definitive overview of both the history of science and religion, but also on mental health issues and physical illness. The authors have done a very thorough overview of all we know at this time. Clearly spirituality and religion affect growth and development, the creation of pathology and the treatment of dis-ease. They have not got the total answer. However, they have laid a groundwork for understanding a complex set of issues. They review those studies that exist, critically interpret their findings, and offer new ways of “asking the question.” They hypothesise the possible mechanisms, and suggest new directions.
One of the most important developments is the emergence of psycho-neuro-immunology. These studies are showing how social situations affect psychological processes, brain function and then the immune system. How healing and faith fit in is not as yet clear.
When one is concerned about the current health care crisis, the role of churches, mosques and temples are important. Not only are they providing ancillary services, but many are giving much direct help to all kinds of groups, the elderly, disabled, minority, homebound, homeless and more. When one turns to improving the quality of life, churches offer community. Community and networks, by themselves support individuals and families, but they are shown to improve healing.
There is now a faith-health endeavour in the US, where schools of public health and schools of theology, teach and start research on these issues. The link in Berkeley with the Graduate Theological Union and the School of Public Health has many new community connections.
I encourage anyone concerned with faith and health, to get this book. More so, it will encourage us to look at the multifaceted relationships of people, their beliefs, environments and health. I call this ecological ecology. It's not done, because it's too hard.
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