Other Free Encyclopedias » Medicine Encyclopedia » Aging Healthy - Part 4 » Religion - Religious Gerontology, Patterns Of Religious Participation, Determinants Of Religious Participation, Religious Participation And Health

Religion - Religious Gerontology

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The field dedicated to the study of religion among older adults and across the life course is known as religious gerontology. This large field of study encompasses basic and applied research and writing on a wide range of topics, including human services delivery, pastoral counseling, theology, ministry, congregational programming, community intervention, health services research, behavioral and psychiatric epidemiology, and social and health indicators related to quality of life.

Systematic empirical research in religious gerontology dates to the early 1950s, when the sociologist David O. Moberg began a series of investigations into the impact of religious participation on the general well-being of older adults. He found that indicators of personal adjustment to aging were higher among people who were involved in organized religious activities. These included active church membership, attending worship services, and serving in church leadership roles. Small-scale studies on similar topics continued to appear throughout the next two decades.

Beginning in the middle 1980s, religious gerontology experienced a period of dramatic growth that has continued to this day. Both qualitative and quantitative research has flourished, with an emphasis on the identification of factors that are associated with positive life circumstances in older adulthood. Qualitative research using a variety of historical, literary, and phenomenological methods has been instrumental in fashioning a deeper understanding of the critical significance of meaning and context as adults move through the stages of the life course, from youth to senescence and death. Much of this research is cross-cultural and takes a comparative approach. The best of this work is in Aging and the Religious Dimension and Religion, Belief, and Spirituality in Late Life (Thomas and Eisenhandler, 1994, 1999).

Another key development has been recognition of the importance of religion in the lives of older adults by public and private institutions that fund research studies. Foremost among these is the National Institute on Aging (NIA) of the National Institutes of Health. Throughout the 1990s the NIA funded several large studies of religion, aging, and health by leading scientists, including the psychiatrist Harold G. Koenig, the sociologist Neal Krause, the epidemiologist Jeff Levin, and the team of the sociologist Robert Joseph Taylor, and the psychologist Linda M. Chatters. Findings from these studies provide considerable support for the idea that active religious involvement is both an epidemiologically and a therapeutically significant factor in the lives of older adults, regardless of gender, social class, race or ethnicity, or religious affiliation.

Many other signs point to the institutionalization of religious gerontology as a defined field of study. These include establishment of the Forum on Religion, Spirituality, and Aging within the American Society on Aging, and a Religion and Aging special interest group within the Gerontological Society of America; publication of the large edited volume Aging, Spirituality, and Religion: A Handbook (Kimble et al.), and of a scholarly journal, Journal of Religious Gerontology; and funded academic centers for education and research, notably the Center for Aging, Religion, and Spirituality at Luther Seminary, in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the Center for the Study of Religion/Spirituality and Health at Duke University Medical Center, in Durham, North Carolina.

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