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$4.5M Grants Will Advance Research about Religion, Spirituality, and Health

George Fitchett, DMin, PhD, professor and director of research in the Department of Religion, Health and Human Values at Rush University Medical Center

There is a growing interest in research and evidence-based practice among health care chaplains. However, for most chaplains involvement in research is limited by their lack of education about research. This prevents chaplains from using research to guide, evaluate, and advocate for the spiritual care they provide. It also limits their ability to collaborate with colleagues who are or plan to conduct research about religion, spirituality and health.

A four-year $4.5M project funded by the John Templeton Foundation, Transforming Chaplaincy: Promoting Research Literacy for Improved Patient Outcomes, started July 1, 2015, hopes to change this. Additional support is being provided by major professional chaplaincy and chaplaincy training organizations in the U.S.: the Association for Professional Chaplains; the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education; the National Association for Catholic Chaplains; and Neshama-the Association for Jewish Chaplains.

Core Activities
Three core activities of the project will advance chaplains involvement in research at three different levels.

  • A fellowship program will support 16 chaplains while they complete an MPH or MS in epidemiology. The first eight Chaplain Research Fellows will be selected shortly and begin their studies in the fall of 2016.
  • A curriculum development grant program will incentivize 70 chaplaincy training (Clinical Pastoral Education) programs to make research literacy part of their curriculum.
  • An online continuing education course, Religion, Spirituality and Health: An Introduction to Research, will be developed and made available to practicing chaplains who are members of one of the supporting chaplaincy organizations.

Together these initiatives will produce over 800 chaplains with basic or advanced research literacy. It is expected that these chaplains will be consumers of and eventually contributors to the publications and conferences of the SBM. It is also expected that they will be better positioned to collaborate in research about religion, spirituality and health with members of the Society of Behavioral Medicine and others. Given the greater importance of religious and spiritual beliefs and practices among women, the elderly, and racial/ethnic minority populations, these initiatives underscore the potential for building collaborative relationships between the Spirituality and Health SIG and the Women's Health, Aging, and Ethnic Minority and Multicultural Health SIGs.

A Note About the Author and the Project Leaders
The project, Transforming Chaplaincy: Promoting Research Literacy for Improved Patient Outcomes, is co-led by George Fitchett, DMin, PhD, at Rush University Medical Center; and Wendy Cadge, PhD, professor of sociology and chair of the Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at Brandeis University. Dr. Fitchett is well-known for his research about religion, spirituality and health and his work on models of spiritual screening and assessment. He is the co-editor, with Steve Nolan, of Spiritual Care in Practice: Case Studies in Healthcare Chaplaincy (Jessica Kingsley, 2015), the first collection of case studies about chaplains' spiritual care. Dr. Cadge is a sociologist of religion whose book, Paging God: Religion in the Halls of Medicine (University of Chicago, 2012), provides an incisive analysis of healthcare chaplaincy and the challenges it faces.

Further information may be found at the project website www.researchliteratechaplaincy.org.