Why Religion and Spirituality Matter for Public Health

Evidence, Implications, and Resources

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Doug Oman
Religion, Spirituality and Health: A Social Scientific Approach
  • New York, NY: 
    Springer Publishing
    , May
     476 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Population healthoutcomes are often influenced by religion and spirituality (R/S). Yet R/S remains underutilized in addressing the social determinants of health within public health education and research. This book comprises respected scholars in the field of religion, spirituality, and public health such as Doug Oman, George Fitchett, Tracy A. Balboni, Ellen Idler, Tyler J. Vanderweele, Michael J. Balboni, and Wendy Cadge (xiii–xviii). The main theme in this engaging volume, which is both easy to read and understand, is how R/S relates to population health outcomes. The authors delve into the ways in which R/S influences health behaviors that promote people’s health and their communities.

This volume explores the ways that R/S is deeply intertwined with the conditions in which people live. Why Religion and Spirituality Matter for Public Health provides evidence, implications, and resources that demonstrate the role of R/S in the places where people live, the manner in which they live, and the way that they make health-related decisions, often guided by the principles of R/S. This work offers three reasons why considering R/S when engaging public health in teaching and research is essential: (1) “because R/S is part of human experience and often a cultural experience that influences billions of people’s behaviors and health. (2) R/S is proven to be associated with health outcomes and for that matter, engaging R/S where people live, think and behave is a needed attention. (3) Since every human being has value that drives motivations and intentions, R/S shows a cultural experience that often shapes a population’s health” (v). 

The book is divided into four parts: Part 1 surveys social and medical research that has produced evidence of the relationship between R/S and health outcomes. The authors examine the strengths and gaps of the effect of R/S on different areas of health, including physical morbidity and mortality, social identity, infectious diseases, environmental health, nutrition, maternal/child health, health policy, mental health, and public health. Part 2 investigates the implications of public health practice for community practitioners and public health systems and their clinical practitioners. Part 3 considers several implications and models for educating public health professionals. In this section, the authors discuss the work of scholars who have convincingly discussed the reasons why public health and religion students need to study R/S as a social determinant that influences health. The authors specifically share teaching and practice models from Emory University on the partnership between religion and public health, and from Harvard University on its health, religion, and spirituality initiative. Further discussion includes teaching and practice strategies from several universities, including the University of California Berkeley, Boston University, the University of Michigan, Drexel University, and University of Illinois, which offers online teaching of public health and spirituality specifically for twenty-first-century chaplain researchers. Part 4 concludes the volume with a global perspective on spirituality, religion, and public health and offers suggestions for the future from a spirituality and public health perspective.

Although there is still room for further research and practice in the field, this volume fills the current gaps with well-researched chapters covering a range of topics from public health perspectives. The focus on how religion and spirituality influence health outcomes, and on related learning and research, make this volume recommended reading across disciplines. Interdisciplinary endeavors from different schools of thought; medicine, nursing, social work, religion, theology, chaplaincy, and philosophy are also challenged to discern ways to engage in similar pursuits. Furthermore, this collection helps the discipline of public health—where large gaps in addressing R/S as social determinants of health exist—to strategically include courses and research efforts in this dimension of health studies. It is recommended for graduate and undergraduate students for understanding R/S as a dimension of health that interconnects with other sciences and health-related outcomes. The book stands out as a ground breaking masterpiece that explores the relationships between R/S and physical, emotional, and social dimensions of health that everyone interested in this subject could find worth reading.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Saneta Maiko is Research Chaplain at the Indiana University Health Center in Indianapolis, IN.

Date of Review: 
January 11, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Doug Oman is Associate Adjunct Professor in the School of Public Health.


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