Religion, Health and Human Values Research

The guiding aim of our research program is to transform healthcare chaplaincy into a research-informed profession. Our faculty explore and expand our understanding of the relationship between religion/spirituality and health, and assist chaplains and other health care professionals to apply this information for more effective spiritual care.

While research has been a part of the department for many years, our formal research program began in 1990. Early investigations in our program examined how patients use religion to cope with their illness, patient satisfaction with spiritual care and outcomes of the department’s Clinical Pastoral Education program. In the early years, our research was supported by departmental and university funds. We have received more than $500,000 in grants from other agencies, including the National Institute on Aging, the Fetzer Institute, and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation. Our research has been recognized with awards from the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, the Council on Ministry in Specialized Settings, and the Joint Council on Research in Pastoral Care and Counseling.

Collaboration is a hallmark of our research program. Our research partners include colleagues in other departments at Rush University Medical Center, including Behavioral Medicine, Psychiatry, Preventive Medicine, and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. We also work with colleagues from other medical centers, such as Northwestern University Medical Center and the University of Chicago Medical Center. Other research partners include the American Cancer Society and the Hastings Center.

Consistent with our research program’s aim, we are presently involved in the Transforming Chaplaincy: Promoting Research Literacy for Improved Patient Outcomes project. Funded by two grants totaling $4.5M over four years from the John Templeton Foundation, with additional support from professional chaplaincy and pastoral education organizations, the project seeks to close the gap between hospital chaplains’ current limited research literacy and the importance of evidence-based care for all members of the health care team. The project is co-led by George Fitchett and Wendy Cadge, PhD, professor of sociology and chair of the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at Brandeis University.

The faculty of the research program of the Department of Religion, Health and Human Values includes George Fitchett, DMin, PhD, director, and Patricia E. Murphy, PhD. Both of them have graduate degrees in theology and the health sciences.

In addition to promoting research literacy among chaplains, our research is focused in the following areas:

Religious and spiritual coping with illness

Many patients turn to religious or spiritual beliefs and practices for consolation and assistance in times of crisis. Some find the solace and support they seek in their faith, while others may experience a brief or enduring period of religious/spiritual struggle. Our research seeks to improve our understanding of the positive and negative elements of religious coping with illness in order to inform spiritual interventions by chaplains and other health care providers.

Race/ethnicity related to religion and spirituality

There are important racial/ethnic differences in religion and spirituality. We seek to understand how these differences influence the relationship between religion/spirituality and health. For example, our research has described significant racial-ethnic differences in the importance of faith in coping with cancer.

Religion, spirituality and wellness

There is growing evidence that religion/spirituality can be a protective factor against disease. We are engaged in research in this area.

Health care chaplaincy and clinical pastoral education

Our research examines and supports the work of health care chaplains. Projects include the development and testing of curricula designed to boost the research literacy of health care chaplains and includes evaluation of the effectiveness of our Clinical Pastoral Education programs.

Spiritual screening and spiritual assessment

As a recognized national and international leader in the explicit assessment of spiritual needs and resources, we play a key role in developing models of spiritual screening and spiritual assessment.

Measurement of religion and spirituality

Understanding that research about the relationship between religion/spirituality and health depends on good measures of religion and spirituality, we have conducted psychometric studies of several of the key instruments used in measuring religion/spirituality.