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Throughout my research in the realm of religious studies, I have always felt drawn to that academia that explored the ways in which religion and spirituality remain relevant in modern, secular, globalized societies. In particular, the intersections between religion and modern medicine have sparked my greatest level of interest, and in this chapter I will offer an opportunity to explore several of these intersections, with particular focus on how religion and spirituality most commonly manifest in a surgical setting. It should be noted that this section is by no means exhaustive, and I urge any readers to explore the books and peer-reviewed literature written by those modern scholars of religion that share my interests. In addition, I recognize the massive need for additional research to be conducted in this field so that evidence-based practice may be employed with wide-scale standards by chaplains, physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals.


One of the steps in building the necessary foundation of trust that a clinician must have in their relationships with patients is to have a respect for their patients’ backgrounds, especially when they differ significantly from the clinician’s own. Part of appreciating the intricacies of a patient’s culture and family life is to understand the faith traditions they identify with. This will ease communication, for with a better understanding of how a patient views the world and the “big questions” of life (including but not limited to “What is my purpose in this world?” “What will happen when I die?” and “How will love manifest itself in my life?”), a clinician will be able to engage with their patients “in their own language.” Additionally, it is crucial that health care providers understand the religious laws that a great deal of their patients prescribe to. Even a quick Internet search could mean the world and prepare a doctor to ease tensions when the subject of organ donation comes up in a negative light with an Orthodox Jew or blood transfusion comes up with a Jehovah’s Witness.

Health care professionals are trained to be observant people, but this attention to detail should go beyond signs and symptoms of illness or injury. Clinicians should take mental note of religious clothing, jewelry, and tattoos that patients (or their family members) have. Room decorations are also a good indication of the value that a patient might place on religion. For example, some patients will choose to have rosary beads, kippahs, hijabs, crucifix necklaces, wall decorations, or more. Patients might also have “get well” cards on display in their room, and often these cards contain religious language. In many cases, noticing these clues might allow a clinician to approach the subject of religion in a more sensitive way than flat out asking the patient what religion they “belong to.” Sometimes, this could make patients feel judged or like they might receive lesser ...

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