After years of marginality, research on religion and health is entering the academic mainstream. Scholarship on this topic has evolved into a large, productive field. As in any emerging field, there are competing visions for what the field should be about and what research questions should be pursued. Different opinions exists as to which constructs should be researched. Words like religion, spirituality, faith, and prayer, and health, healing, medicine, and healthcare, imply different things. The study of their various interconnections can thus take myriad forms. This paper argues for a welcoming approach open to the widest range of research subjects.
Jeff Levin. (2009). “How Faith Heals: A Theoretical Model.” EXPLORE: T he Journal of Science and Healing 5:77-96.
This paper summarizes theoretical perspectives from psychology supportive of a healing effect of faith. First, faith is defined as a congruence of belief, trust, and obedience in relation to God or the divine. Second, evidence for a faith-healing association is presented, empirically and in theory. To exemplify religiously sanctioned affirmation of such a connection, selected passages are cited from the Jewish canon attesting to biblical and rabbinic support for a faith factor in longevity, disease risk, mental health and well-being, disease prevention, and healing. Third, reference to theories of hope, learned optimism, positive illusions, and opening up or disclosure, and to theory and research on psychoneuroimmunology and placebos, demonstrates that contemporary psychology can accommodate a healing power of faith. This is summarized in a typology of five hypothesized mechanisms underlying a faith-healing association, termed behavioral/conative, interpersonal, cognitive, affective, and psychophysiological. Finally, implications are discussed for the rapprochement of religion and medicine.
Jeff Levin. (2008). “Scientists and Healers: Toward Collaborative Research Partnerships.” EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing 4:302-310.
Recent years have witnessed growing interest in the study of healers and healing. Yet because of barriers segregating the professional worlds of scientists and healers, research on this topic has not met its potential. Even the most sympathetic of scientific investigators have failed to treat healers as full research partners, neglecting to take seriously healers’ informed perspectives in formulating study questions and in making key decisions regarding assessment and outcomes. Likewise, some of the most gifted healers exhibit antipathy toward scientific research that is uninformed and works at cross purposes with efforts to validate the efficacy of healing and to integrate its practice into conventional medical settings. For this situation to improve, scientists and healers must recognize that each party has critical gaps in knowledge and skills that the other party possesses. Only through true collaborative partnerships can the potential benefits of research on healing be realized.
Jeff Levin. (2008). “Esoteric Healing Traditions: A Conceptual Overview.” EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing 4:101-112.
This paper presents, for the first time, a comprehensive scholarly examination of the history and principles of major traditions of esoteric healing. After a brief conceptual overview of esoteric religion and healing, summaries are provided of eight major esoteric traditions, including descriptions of beliefs and practices related to health, healing, and medicine. These include what are termed the kabbalistic tradition, the mystery-school tradition, the gnostic tradition, the brotherhoods tradition, the Eastern-mystical tradition, the Western-mystical tradition, the shamanic tradition, and the new-age tradition. Next, commonalities across these traditions are summarized with respect to beliefs and practices related to anatomy and physiology; nosology and etiology; pathophysiology; and therapeutic modalities. Finally, the implications of this survey of esoteric healing are discussed for clinicians, biomedical researchers, and medical educators.
Jeff Levin and Linda M. Chatters. (2008). “Religion, Aging, and Health: Historical Perspectives, Current Trends, and Future Directions.” Journal of Religion, Spirituality, and Aging 20(1-2):153-172.
This paper summarizes the history of gerontological research on religion and health. Through the 1970s, work was sporadic, neither programmatic nor theory-driven. In the 1980s, gerontologists began exploring religion more systematically. The 1990s brought institutional recognition and support, including from the NIH. Since 2000, religious research has become integrated into the mainstream of gerontology. Findings implicate religious constructs as determinants of numerous psychosocial, health, and well-being outcomes, and theories have been proposed for these effects in older adults and throughout the life course. Recent emphasis on longitudinal research, sophisticated methodologies, and creative assessment of religiousness point to exciting research frontiers.
Jeff Levin and Laura Mead. (2008). “Bioenergy Healing: A Theoretical Model and Case Series.” EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing 4:201-209.
This article provides a detailed description of the theory and practice of energy healing, highlighted by presentation of a series of cases taken from the clinical practice of a prominent bioenergy practitioner. Conceptual and theoretical issues are underscored, including a comprehensive discussion of the methods of bioenergy healing and concomitant understandings of anatomy, physiology, nosology, and disease etiology. This material is located within the context of both a bioenergetic perspective on healing and a salutogenic model of the natural history of health. These respective theoretical orientations are shown to be consonant with each other, and their integration is proposed. Implications of this work are discussed for the training of healers, for medical practice and education, and for ongoing efforts to foster collaborative basic-science and clinical research partnerships between scientists and healers. A key function of such partnerships promises to be the advancement of our theoretical understanding of healing.
Jeff Levin and Lea Steele. (2005). “The Transcendent Experience: Conceptual, Theoretical, and Epidemiologic Perspectives.” EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing 1:89-101.
This paper provides a conceptual, theoretical, and empirical overview of the concept of the transcendent experience. The principal goal is to formalize a scientific field around the study of dimensions, determinants, and health outcomes of transcendence. This is accomplished through posing several fundamental questions, and then answering them as concisely as possible in light of current theory and existing empirical research. These include: “What is the transcendent experience?,” “Can the transcendent experience be studied?,” “What do we (and don’t we) know about the transcendent experience?,” “How is the transcendent experience triggered?,” “How is the transcendent experience sustained?,” “Are there physiological models of the transcendent experience?,” “Are there health effects of the transcendent experience?,” and, “How should we study the health effects of the transcendent experience?” Finally, an agenda is proposed for research on the role of the transcendent experience in health, emphasizing development of an epidemiology of the transcendent experience.
Jeff Levin, Linda M. Chatters, and Robert Joseph Taylor. (2005). “Religion, Health and Medicine in African Americans: Implications for Physicians.” Journal of the National Medical Association 97:237-249.
Recent years have seen a burgeoning of research and writing on the connections between religion and health. The very best of this work comes from epidemiologic studies of African Americans. This paper summarizes results of these investigations, including findings identifying effects of religious participation on both physical and mental health outcomes. Evidence mostly supports a protective religious effect on morbidity and mortality and on depressive symptoms and overall psychological distress among African Americans. This paper also carefully discusses what the results of these studies mean and do not mean, an important consideration due to frequent misinterpretations of findings on this topic. Because important distinctions between epidemiologic and clinical studies tend to get glossed over, reports of religion-health associations oftentimes draw erroneous conclusions that foster unrealistic expectations about the role of faith and spirituality in health and healing. Finally, implications are discussed for clinical practice, medical education, and public health.
Jeff Levin. (2003). “Spiritual Determinants of Health and Healing: An Epidemiologic Perspective on Salutogenic Mechanisms.” Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine 9:48-57.
This article provides an overview of both empirical research and conceptual and theoretical approaches bearing on the connection between spirituality and health. Special emphasis is placed on key epidemiologic concepts that are typically overlooked or misinterpreted in discussions of religious and spiritual factors in health and healing. These include the natural history of disease, the levels of prevention, risk factors, protection, salutogenesis, and host resistance. After reviewing research evidence of both a protective factor for health and therapeutic factor in healing attributed to religiousness, faith, or spirituality, a typology is proposed which classifies potentially salutogenic mechanisms underlying such effects. This model differentiates among biological, psychosocial, bioenergy-based, nonlocal, and supernatural pathways. Finally, the clinical and scientific implications of this work is described.
Jeff Levin. (2002). “Is Depressed Affect a Function of One’s Relationship with God?: Findings from a Study of Primary Care Patients.” International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine 32:379-393.
OBJECTIVE: This study examines the association between a self-reported loving relationship with God and the presence of depressed affect. Building on prior clinical and epidemiologic research on religious factors in mental health, it seeks to extend consideration to internal religious resources.
METHOD: Data are from 205 primary care outpatients who completed a self-administered survey inquiring about their relationship with God, their mental and physical health, and various religious and psychosocial issues. The principal dependent construct is the depressed affect subscale of the General Well-Being Scale. The principal independent construct is a validated eight-item self-report measure of loving and being loved by God based on a theoretical taxonomy developed by Sorokin.
RESULTS: Hierarchical ordinary least squares regression was used to investigate the association between this construct, which Sorokin termed “religious love,” and the measure of depressed affect. After controlling for sets of hypothesized mediating factors (including multi-item measures of religious involvement, social resources, psychological resources, and physical health status) in five successive models, including several key sociodemographic variables, the statistically significant inverse association between these two constructs in the baseline model (beta = -.29, p < .01) remained strong and statistically significant (beta = -.21, p < .05).
CONCLUSIONS: These findings raise the possibility that a loving relationship with God may exert a protective effect on psychological distress. One’s relationship with God thus may represent an important personal resource for mitigating the emotional consequences of poor health and other deleterious life circumstances, as well as a marker for successful religious coping.
Jeff Levin. (2001). “Etiology Recapitulates Ontology: Reflections on Restoring the Spiritual Dimension to Models of the Determinants of Health.” Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine 12:17-37.
This paper addresses theoretical issues related to the restoration of spirituality to models of the determinants of health and illness. It is asserted that models of etiology and disease causation necessarily reflect prevailing understandings of the nature of human life. Allopathic biomedicine, for example, is an inevitable product of materialistic and mechanistic views of what it means to be human; likewise, psychosomatic medicine emerged only among scientists and healers who accepted the mind as real. For a true body-mind-spirit perspective to prevail in medicine will require evidence of the reality and salutogenic salience of expressions or manifestations of a human spiritual dimension. As this paper describes, such evidence already exists in the form of empirical research findings from epidemiology, psychophysiology, and clinical medicine. Due to the rise of normal science within this emerging area of research, however, proponents of a body-mind-spirit paradigm are meeting with considerable resistance, ironically, from many of the putative leaders of the religion, spirituality, and health field. The shift to a new paradigm will only come once scientists and practitioners succeed in breaking free of the control of established medical and scientific institutions.
Jeff Levin. (2001). “God, Love, and Health: Findings from a Clinical Study.” Review of Religious Research 42:277-293.
This study identifies a significant health effect of a loving relationship with God. Based on work by Sorokin, an eight-item scale was developed and validated to assess what he termed “religious love”: the feeling of loving and being loved by God. Using a sample of 205 family practice outpatients, hierarchical OLS regression was used to investigate the effect of this construct on a standard self-rating of health. Several sets of factors were hypothesized to mediate the relationship between religious love and self-rated health: religious involvement, social resources, psychological resources, objective health status, and sociodemographic factors. These effects were controlled for in six successive models. In the end, despite controlling for the effects of 15 variables and scales that accounted for nearly 40% of the variance in self-rated health, the statistically significant association between religious love and self-rated health at baseline (beta = .33, p < .001) remained strong, significant, and only marginally affected (beta = .24, p < .05). These findings provide evidence that loving and being loved by God exerts a positive influence on perceptions of health.
Jeff Levin. (2000). “A Prolegomenon to an Epidemiology of Love: Theory, Measurement, and Health Outcomes.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 19:117-136.
Existing research and writing on the topic of love is explored in order to encourage study of the epidemiology of love. Theoretical work in the psychology of love is reviewed, followed by a profile of measurement instruments developed to assess love. Next, existing empirical findings linking love-related constructs to health and healing are summarized. Finally, an outline is provided of pertinent questions in the epidemiology of love. The possibility is raised that love may not be just a host factor, similar to other psychosocial constructs, but also an agent of salutogenesis.