Spiritual matters have always been linked to human health. All major religions, for example, typically prescribe or prohibit a variety of health-related behaviors and beliefs. Examples include rules against smoking, no or limited use of alcohol (and other drugs), and regular care of the body (e.g., routine exercise, nutritious diets, good sanitary habits). Why this concern with health? Part of the reason is because the body and its well-being, along with the mind and spirit, are often viewed as a gift of God (some would say God’s Temple) or a higher or universal power or spirit. In this sense all human life is sacred and must be cared for.
Until recently the possible links of spiritual and religious factors to health, broadly viewed, were essentially ignored or unstudied. Empirical studies in the past 2 decades however have demonstrated significant associations over time of selected spiritual and religious factors with important health and disease outcomes (e.g., less all-cause mortality, higher subjective well-being). An emerging theme is that any causal relationships with health, if existing, is more indirect and distal in nature (e.g., as mediating or moderating factors). The Spirituality and Health Special Interest Group seeks to encourage and support well-designed empirical research that sheds clarifying light on what processes are at work. Research can more clearly identify and clarify in what ways spiritual and religious factors may influence health, positively or negatively. Findings can also bear on ways to make professional healthcare practices more effective. Of particular concern is the need to provide up-to-date accurate information and training, since few professional training programs in health offer adequate preparation on spiritual matters. In North America and in some other areas of the world, the majority of people with health issues and problems are spiritually involved or religiously active. Health professionals and scholars need to better understand the connections between health, disease and spiritual matters.