The Concept of Religion and How it Affects Health
In this essay I will be examining the concept of religion and how it affects health in my community of practice, London Borough of Newham, based on sociological and psychological theories. I have chosen Newham as this is where I was located on placement and therefore have encountered a very diverse and multicultural way of life, hence the theme for this essay.
Over the last 20 years London has become more and more a diverse and multicultural society, “London, England, United Kingdom, population 7,556,900 in 2007 claims to be one of the most ethnically diverse cities on earth, with over 300 languages spoken in it.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnic_groups_in_London. Also I would like a better understanding to the social and cultural aspects of the patients within that area and to further my own knowledge for future references in the healthcare sector. The term religion is “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a supernatural agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion. In placement I came across many Muslim patients and therefore judged the majority of the population in Newham to be Muslims. “Newham has the fourth smallest proportion of Christians in England and Wales, 47 percent. Its second largest religious group is Muslim, with 24 per cent of the population.” http://www.newham.gov.uk/YourCouncil/CensusInformation/NewhamintheCensus-aSynopsis.htm. By using sociological and psychological perspectives I will try to analyze the affect religion has on the health of people from different religions and cultures in Newham.
Religion can create many communities by sharing the same faiths, beliefs and values; however community has numerous associations depending on how it is used and in what context. Community plays a huge role in people’s lives; it constructs a sense of belonging and identity. The Oxford English Dictionary has various definitions for community such as “a group of people living together in one place.” “The people of an area or country considered collectively; society.” “A group of people with a common religion, race, or profession: the scientific community.” “The holding of certain attitudes and interests in common.” “A group of interdependent plants or animals growing or living together or occupying a specified habitat. http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/community?view=uk.
The three I have found to be useful in relation to my essay are “a group of people living together in one place.” I feel this is the most basic definition as there could be no community without people occupying it. Also “the people of an area or country considered collectively; society” and “a group of people with a common religion, race, or profession: the scientific community.” From what I have experienced in my locality I feel these definitions are most relevant as they build an awareness of the different religious communities in Newham.
From a psychological point of view (Azarya 1985) sees community “in terms of social relationships or sentiment.” I feel in this case, community can be focussed towards the relationship a person has with their superior being in whuch their religion divulges from which is both personal and sentimental to them, therefore it contributes to the social relationships in a community.
A sociological definition of community is “traditionally a “community” has been defined as a group of interacting people living in a common location. The word is often used to refer to a group that is organized around common values and is attributed with social cohesion within a shared geographical location, generally in social units larger than a household.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community.
I have chosen to follow the sociological perspective of community to help my understanding as I feel that society has a big impact on religion; coincided with the psychology behind decisions due to religion. Although I feel that the sociological aspect of community is more identifiable in today’s multicultural society, “in sociology, the concept of community has led to significant debate, and sociologists are yet to reach agreement on a definition of the term. There were ninety-four discrete definitions of the term by the mid-1950s.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community.
I have looked at Max Weber’s theory on religion to identify and rationalise that religion could affect an individual’s heath. Weber’s theory is concerned with the way both religion and society influences each other and concentrates on the way religion configures reasons for suffering and death, (Weber, 1974). I also feel that people look to religion to make sense of difficulties that they couldn’t understand, “science can fundamentally explain how a sickness for example can occur, we cannot go to the depth of why it occurred” thus Weber saw religion as a way of people understanding the cause behind it.
Also Weber found that in a lot of religious traditions it is believed suffering if a form of punishment from a higher being. This explains how in some religions medicine and other forms of healthcare may be rejected, due to belief that handing yourself over to the will of God is the right thing to do and having faith. Jehovah’s Witness are an example of this as “they seek alternatives to blood transfusions due to their belief that a human must not sustain his or her life with another creature’s blood”. Based on Weber’s insights of religion I have come to an understanding that people with strong religious beliefs value life, and everything bad that comes with it is a punishment from God, having still maintaining faith as God has done this to them for a reason and therefore should accept them without question.
From a psychological perspective “spiritual or religious beliefs have been shown to be associated with increased psychological well-being and better health.” (Koenig and Cohen 2002). This suggests that spiritual and religious guidance aids the emotional state of a person and as London is a more diverse and multicultural society today, it is important to have an open mind and to be prepared for differences which may occur in different religious beliefs.
For many Muslims, their faith is a vital source of support, comfort and strength. “Most Muslims believe that Allah never puts a greater burden on a person than she or he has the capacity to bear, (Qur’an 2; 23).” This suggests that they strongly believe the approach that everything happens for a reason. Also “illness and death are not punishments from Allah, any more than health is a reward.” I have also looked at a website which was directed at Muslims, “from an Islamic perspective health is viewed as one of the greatest blessings that God has bestowed on mankind. It should be noted that the greatest blessing after belief is health, as narrated in the following Hadith:” and “God has entrusted us with our bodies for a predestined period of time. He will hold us to account on how we looked after and utilised our bodies and good health.” http://www.muslimhealthnetwork.org/islamandhealth.shtml.
This theory from the Muslim Health Network explains the religions view of health and that to them it is a blessing to have a good health therefore Muslims shouldn’t do things that would jeopardise their health in anyway, such as not smoking and drinking. “Islam strictly forbids indulgence in intoxicants such as alcohol and drugs for good reason. The limited pleasure of such vices causes immense long-term damage to both mind, body and the social fabric of society. Particular schools of thought include smoking within the list of prohibitions because of its harmful effects on the body.” http://www.muslimhealthnetwork.org/islamandhealth.shtml.
These are all examples of how religion and faith plays a significant part in affecting health in a positive way.
(Neuberger, 1994a) stated “nurses who work with patients who come from various religious backgrounds need to make themselves familiar with the basic beliefs of the religion concerned, in order to care for a patient and recognise their possible spiritual and cultural needs.” As London is so diverse it is important that nurses and other healthcare professionals to have some sort of conception of each religion. This view varies from that of Weber’s as Neuberger implies that it is the nurse’s responsibility to provide the appropriate care needed for the individual.
I have found some quotes which have also helped me to understand how religion can affect health in today’s society. “Today, many medical professionals and religious leaders believe it’s a blend of the scientific and the spiritual that prove to promote health and reduce disease.” http://www.goodnewsblog.com/2007/04/23/can-prayer-influence-health. Also “patients draw on prayer and other religious resources to navigate and overcome the spiritual challenges that arise in their experiences of illness.” http://www.newsmedical.net/news/2007/04/10/23336.aspx.
These quotes and overall I believe that people who have strong religious beliefs accept the saying ‘everything happens for a reason’ and therefore place their understanding and perception of life with God. This aids an individual with emotional support when science cannot find what the root of their health complications are and therefore enables them to seek help and guidance from their religion.
To gather information I used both primary and secondary recourses to help with my research, in order to attain consistent and constructive information to make my findings accurate.
I looked at a website providing local and national statistics and found that excluding Christians, the majority of Newham’s population were Muslim, therefore I felt focussing my essay towards the religion of Islam most appropriate. However nine percent of people’s religion was not stated so the accuracy of this was not extremely reliable. As this was a government website, the statistics and information held on it would be reliable and accurate. In relation to health within Newham, I found a table containing sufficient data on religion, health, ethnicity and much more.
I also did a search on Google to find some more information on the relationship between health and religion and came up with the Muslim health network site which gave me a better take on the Islamic perspective of health and wellbeing.
Using the internet was efficient as I was able to acquire all the data I required. The only disadvantage to this was that some websites such as; Wikipedia, can be edited therefore, some information or websites cannot be trusted as anyone can edit the webpage. However, websites such as directgov.co.uk and many others are copyrighted therefore, cannot be edited unless you have the authorisation to do so, due to copyright acts, which means these are reliable websites to seize facts and figures from.
Being able to borrow several books from the library was very convenient as this allowed me to widen my understanding and to correlate the sociological and psychological views in more depth with religion and health. Although looking for the right books and appropriate information was time consuming, I felt the books were more useful than the websites that I used to gather evidence. However an inconvenience of using books is that it can be outdated and therefore the relevance to practice nowadays may not apply as well.
I then went on to look at Newham’s and the BBC religion website; this showed me how religion can create communities within boroughs and how areas with members of the same faith attract people of the same religions. “Concentrated communities of Muslims are found in the boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Newham; Jews in Harrow, Barnet and north Hackney; and Hindus in Brent.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/6978116.
In my placement area, London borough of Newham, I came across a lot of multicultural patients who had different faiths. As I lacked knowledge in their particular beliefs I chose to do my essay on religion and capture the affects religion may have on health.
Ethnicity and Religion national commentary
Ethnic Group (all people)Value
Eng & Wal
Largest minority ethnic group(s)Bangladeshi (33.4%)
Black African (3.4%)
Black Caribbean (2.7%)
Place of birth (all people)Value
Eng & Wal
Born in UK65.3%
Born elsewhere in EU (inc Rep Ireland)3.9%
Born outside EU30.8%
Religion (all people)Value
Eng & Wal
Religion not stated7.4%
To start my research I used the internet to see whether I can find out which religions were practised in Newham. However I came across national statistics giving percentages of the different religions we have in the United Kingdom as you can see from the table below. The table below shows ‘ethnicity and religion’ I found that apart from Christians the second highest percentage was Muslim, and this is why I decided to mainly focus on them in this essay. http://www.statistics.gov.uk.
I then went on to look at the percentages of religions in my particular place of interest; London borough of Newham. As you can see from the table below there is still a high percentage of Christians but still the next highest is Muslim being a considerable 24.3 percent.
Ethnicity and Religion national commentary
Ethnic Group (all people)Value
Eng & Wal
Largest minority ethnic group(s)Black African (13.1%)
Place of birth (all people)Value
Eng & Wal
Born in UK61.8%
Born elsewhere in EU (inc Rep Ireland)2.6%
Born outside EU35.6%
Religion (all people)Value
Eng & Wal
Religion not stated9.0%
I also found an article on the BBC website, where I found a section relating to how religion has caused segregation in London involving areas such as Newham and other neighbouring boroughs like Tower Hamlets.
Religion not race segregates city
London is far more segregated on religious grounds than by race, new research reveals.
The university of East London has created a map showing the city as a patchwork of religious enclaves.
It show that in some areas, minority religions make up 80% of the population.
Only 3% of London’s seven million residents live in areas classed as racially segregated, but 25% live in religiously-segregated neighbourhoods.
The study also questioned whether ministers are right – after the 2001 race riots and the 7 July bombings – to attempt to tackle segregation.
The findings indicated living in segregated communities could actually benefit some of the minorities involved, although Muslims were more likely to be “trapped” in deprived areas and less likely to forge links with other groups living around them.
Professor Allan Brimicombe, author of the study based on census data, said: “Traditionally the amount of residential segregation in London has been looked at in terms of ethnicity.
“ Any government plan that talks about ‘parallel lives’ and a lack of integration being a bad thing is missing the point – it’s not bad for everybody ”
Professor Allan Brimicombe
“By ethnicity there is not very much residential segregation. But when you turn it around and look at religious self-identity we see there is a lot of segregation in London by minority religious groups.”
The city’s religious breakdown was then compared with information indicating deprivation, such as educational qualifications and housing types.
“We found that a level of segregation actually seems to improve the lot of people living in areas that are segregated along religious self-identity lines,” said the author.
“The Jews, Hindus and Sikhs seem to be better off in areas that are dominated by their own religion, except for the Muslim-dominated areas which get progressively worse off as they become more segregated.
“Any government plan that talks about ‘parallel lives’ and a lack of integration being a bad thing is missing the point – it’s not bad for everybody.
“But for one group, the Muslims, they seem to be trapped in a spiral where they can’t seem to move out of high deprivation areas.”
Concentrated communities of Muslims are found in the boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Newham; Jews in Harrow, Barnet and north Hackney; and Hindus in Brent.
This article has given me a different angle on religion as it talks about how religious communities keep together in an area. I feel that this sense of segregation created by religious groups may cause conflict among those from another religion. It sort of has the view of ‘looking after your own’ and therefore forms a rift between different religious groups.
I also found a piece on the role spirituality and religion plays in healthcare, I really enjoyed reading this piece as it outlined the way and reasons people need religion and spirituality in their lives in times of illness and bad health. It helps them to support their emotional state through prayers and mediations to make sense of the reasons behind illness.
“Spirituality and religion have always been an essential component of health and well-being. In modern times, the role of spirituality and religion in medicine encompasses such practices as the use of meditation and prayer in healing, pastoral counseling, evoking forgiveness and compassion, engaging the mystery of death in end of life care, and the search for meaning in illness for patients and families as well as the health professionals who work with them. Integrative medicine acknowledges and promotes the importance of bringing spirituality into the healing process.”
Also there has been research which has shown that having a religious faith; people do tend to have a better health status. I think this may be because religious people believe the preservation of life is vital and therefore do whatever they can to look after it and avoid things they believe would harm their bodies.
“While there are challenges in conducting quantifiable scientific research on the effects of practices as unquantifiable as prayer, recent research has begun to shed light on the role of spirituality in health. “There is already some preliminary evidence for a connection between prayer and related practices and health outcomes,” noted Catherine Stoney, PhD, an NCCAM Program Officer in the Division of Extramural Research and Training. “For example, we’ve seen some evidence that religious affiliation and religious practices are associated with health and mortality—in other words, with better health and longer life. Such connections may involve immune function, cardiovascular function, and/or other physiological changes.””
“Research on prayer and healing has a spiritual dimension, suggests Larry Dossey, MD, an expert on the role of both consciousness and prayer in health. “The primary reason to focus on the role of prayer in healing is not to prove its effectiveness,” Dossey said. “The best reason goes deeper. Prayer says something incalculably important about who we are and what our destiny may be.””
Whilst doing this assignment I have explored a range of different attitudes on health and religion, to see whether there is a link between having religious beliefs and better health. The use of sociological and psychological perspectives has helped me to aid my research of religious communities within the borough of Newham to see if religion affects health. I have mostly favoured the idea that religion does affect health and tried to find evidence to help me support this. I have realised that religion is an immense topic and has many different factors which involve health in a variety of ways. Health isn’t just about illness and disease, health consists of everyday social aspects in life for example happiness, good relationships, working etc. There needs to be a balance of everything an individual needs and craves in order to maintain a good health.
After the research I carried out, through many sources, I feel I have a better knowledge on the community of Newham’s religion and health as I was unaware of how many religious groups were based in Newham and which religions were most dominant.
It is distinctive that religion can have an overriding affect on health and my theories and findings have assisted me to display this. It has shown me the reasons for a particular religion to turn down medication for an illness and why they choose to do so. Also it has helped me to be familiar with the motivation for them to eat the way they do and do things such as fast. I tried to find statistics on the internet on different cultures and diabetes but was unable to do so, but have discovered that diabetes is common amongst Muslims, also that some of the older generations of Muslims lack knowledge and understanding of the illness, due to fasting and then eating a high sugar diet to keep them going it is more likely that a Muslim person to contract diabetes.
After a great deal of consideration and investigations I have come to the following conclusions that religion does have an effect on health and there are both negative and positive sides to it. For instance Muslims where they choose not to smoke or drink is a positive thing and Jehovah’s Witness who would refuse blood transfusions can be seen as negative if they require a blood transfusion in order to save their life. Nevertheless, people’s wishes due to their faith must be respected and valued.
As a student nurse I felt this topic has enhanced my knowledge of the diverse and multicultural society we have. After being in placement I have already gained an insight into the area, however I am aware that I will encounter people from different religions and will be in contact with them every day in my nursing career. I feel that now I have a much greater understanding of what I am to expect during my future placements. It has really helped me to understand the social and the psychological aspects of people from different religious backgrounds.
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