Health and Healing: Formation and Education

logo LargePresented by Revd Prof Christopher Cook, Professor of Spirituality, Theology and Health, University of Durham

This session was largely concerned with Durham University’s new Masters’ degree in Spirituality and Health, developed in response to a context in which there has been very little collaboration between healthcare professionals and clergy.  The aim of the course is to encourage active theological reflection on healthcare. Half the battle, then, is getting people into the same room.

Points made:

• Theological students ‘get’ the bits about ministry, but find the rest difficult (eg psychology). Non-theological students find the reverse.

• The danger then is one of simplistic material:  (i) good theology accompanied by weak, anecdotal psychology or medicine; (ii) or solid medical material accompanied by shallow theological engagement.

• Harold Koenig from North Carolina has collected thousands of papers on spirituality and health, and these give some idea of the context we are addressing here. (Koenig, H. G., Mccullough, M. E. & Larson, D. B. (2001) Handbook of Religion and Health, New York, Oxford. And: Koenig, H. G., King, D. E. & Carson, V. B. (2012) Handbook of Religion and Health, New York, Oxford University Press.)

• It is very difficult to teach spirituality in a classroom at all, because it asks something you can only learn through experience and communication with others, namely ‘how do we deal with suffering in our own lives and other people’s?’

• Some areas of medical care are particularly prone to raising theological questions, for example, mental health, palliative care.

Discussion points and questions from the audience

1. The idea of an ‘interdisciplinary bridge’.  The course is not promoting a particular tradition.  Nevertheless, orientation matters.  For example, are the students Christians or not, and does it matter? In talking about religion / health, we are also talking about secular / scientific

2. Heythrop College, University of London is currently developing a research focus and a Masters module on Spirituality and Health.

3. Practice placements.  These sound desirable, and it would be good to be able to offer them at some time in the future.

4. There are networks of Christians in medicine, and many of the people present at the conference are GPs or professionals involved in healthcare.

5. Church of Ireland. ‘Our’ role is to give the person permission to give time to reflection.

6. Ridley Hall, Cambridge ordinands have very limited access to such materials.

7. Parish nursing may offer important theological insights.

8. What are the particular issues that clergy need exposure to, in order to do their job?

9. Lay people also need training.

9. The medicalization of healthcare offers particular challenges.

10. Where else in the church would this conversation go on? Ministers rarely get together to discuss these things.

12. The way we do theology sometimes feels as if it had been formed in relation (or in response) to a different world


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