Variable, Institution, or Social Determinant: Examining how Public Health Scholars Write About the Category of Religion (CURA Colloquium)

  • Starts12:00 pm on Friday, March 1, 2024
  • Ends1:30 pm on Friday, March 1, 2024

Speaker: Tyler J. Fuller, PhD Candidate, Department of Religion, Boston University

Public health scientists often think about religion sociologically. Yet, they do not always critically consider their assumptions and understandings of religion, or cite scholars who define “religion.” This can lead public health scientists to draw on their own, or public, assumptions of what is “religion.” Thus, I conducted a systematic analysis of scholarly work that included discussion of religion in five of the most impactful journals in Public Health to understand how religion is understood and written about among public health scholars. I searched for research articles published between January 2018 and December 2022 that contained “religio*” in the title or abstract. Of the 287 items collected, 265 were selected for analysis. Four themes were identified through analysis. First, scholars who operationalized "religion" as a quantitative variable often saw religious beliefs as barriers to public health that needed to be corrected through the intervention of a religious leader, who worked with public health scholars. Second, work on faith-based/placed health education often understood religion as institution, seeing it positively in relation to resources and social capital. Third, religious practices were often described as beneficial to public health because they joined individuals into communities and connected them to sources of social capital. Fourth, religion was always described as a barrier to LGBTQ+ health and there was no mention of congregations that affirmed LGBTQ+ people.

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