About Us

The Program on Medicine and Religion at the University of Chicago

Promoting scholarship and discourse at the intersection of medicine and religion

The Program on Medicine and Religion at the University of Chicago is a leading forum for scholarship and discourse at the intersection of medicine and religion. Despite ample evidence that religion often animates clinicians’ practices and that patients’ health behaviors and experiences of illness are often mediated by faith, the relationship between medicine and religion is rarely studied. The Program on Medicine and Religion aims to fill this gap by conducting rigorous empirical, historical, theological, ethical, and legal scholarship to enrich our understanding of the meaning of illness and the myriad ways that religion and medicine each respond to the human predicaments of illness, injury, disability, suffering, and death, often in complementary and mutually reinforcing ways.

In recent decades, patients and health care professionals appear to have become dispirited about health care practices that seem merely instrumental and technical, and many have become alienated from health care systems that fail to accommodate or even consider the role of their religious practices and convictions. In large measure, the profession of medicine tends either to ignore the religious faith of patients and health care professionals or to treat religious faith as merely one more sociodemographic factor related to health care outcomes. Consequently, many patients and practitioners find it difficult to make sense of how their own faiths, and the faiths of those around them, relate to health, healthcare, and the healing professions. If, however, the profession of medicine can learn to recognize, understand, and respect the religious faith of patients and colleagues, opportunities for a new and more fully human medicine abound.

The Program on Medicine and Religion recognizes that religious traditions are fonts of wisdom regarding the meaning of sickness, suffering, and healing, and it seeks to retrieve and consider anew the intellectual, moral, and spiritual resources that specific religious traditions offer to patients, practitioners and healthcare systems. The Program promotes scholarship that is robust and faithful within particular religious traditions, while at the same time fostering honest and respectful dialogue between and among these traditions and their secular counterparts.

The aims of this work are to discover what shape contemporary medicine might take in different faith contexts, to foster interfaith dialogue about medicine and religion, and to encourage and advise those patients, practitioners, and communities that are currently seeking to re-invigorate the spiritual and religious dimensions of health care. If successful, this work will help patients to make medical choices that are better informed by their own (and others’) religious traditions, and help them to interpret their medical experiences in the light of spirituality and faith. This work will help health care professionals to re-imagine and re-engage medicine as a faithful practice—to experience their work as intrinsically rewarding and fulfilling. Finally, this work will help to clarify how health care systems can better accommodate the particular needs of diverse religious communities.

The Program pursues these aims through scholarship, training, and education, and by facilitating connections between stakeholders. The Program promotes scholarship regarding all aspects of the intersection of medicine and religion, from the clinical encounter between patients and clinicians to broader societal and policy concerns. While open to all the diverse religious and spiritual traditions that can inform medicine, the Program primarily promotes scholarship related to the three Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The point of this focus is not to be exclusionary, but to  facilitate a more robust interfaith dialogue among these traditions that share so much in common , and to pursue a greater depth of scholarship than might be possible were the Program to attempt to embrace all the world’s many faith traditions equally. The Program promotes both empirical and conceptual studies, encompassing the normative as well as the descriptive, and in doing so seeks to deploy the tools of all relevant disciplines. The Program also seeks to train those who will expand the range and depth of this field, to develop educational resources that serve the needs of different stakeholders, and to create venues that bring together academics and laypersons, scientists and scholars of religion, health care professionals and members of the public, to consider what medicine might look like were it to be fully informed by attention to its religious and spiritual dimensions.

The Program is a collaborative effort involving the Department of Medicine and the Divinity School. The Program was launched January 2009, and has benefited from grant support by the John Templeton Foundation and a generous legacy gift from Dr. and Mrs. Hugh Hazenfield.