Religious Communities

Religious communities and human flourishing

Religious Communities and Human Flourishing

In the project on Religious Communities and Human Flourishing, we aim to carry out original empirical research on how religious communities affect various aspects of flourishing including health, happiness, meaning and purpose, and close social relationships.

We also aim to summarize the most rigorous research in this area of religious communities and human flourishing outcomes and to relate it to traditions within theology and philosophy. A central component of the review and summary of empirical research is evaluating the strength of the evidence in what is a very large literature. Although numerous studies have suggested that participation in religious communities has a beneficial association with a variety of health outcomes, much of the empirical research relating religious participation to health outcomes is problematic because of the issue of "reverse causation" - the possibility that attending religious services might be associated with health only because it is only those who are healthy who can attend.

Rigorous designs with longitudinal data over time are necessary to control for this possibility and our own empirical research and also our research synthesis summary has restricted attention to those studies with such rigorous designs.

Publications on Religious Communities

Original Empirical Research:

Shiba, K., Cowden, R. G., Gonzalez, N., Ransome, Y., Nakagomi, A., Chen, Y., Lee, M. T., VanderWeele, T. J., and Fancourt, D. (2022). Associations of online religious participation during COVID-19 lockdown with subsequent health and well-being among UK adults. Psychological Medicine, 1–10.

Chen, Y., Kim, E.S., and VanderWeele, T.J. (2020). Religious service attendance and subsequent health and well-being throughout adulthood: evidence from three prospective cohorts. International Journal of Epidemiology, 49:2030–2040.

Chen, Y., Koh, H.K., Kawachi, I., Botticelli, M., and VanderWeele, T.J. (2020). Religious service attendance and deaths related to drugs, alcohol, and suicide among US health care professionals. JAMA Psychiatry, 77:737-744.

Kim, E.S., and VanderWeele, T.J. (2019). Mediators of the association between religious service attendance and mortality. American Journal of Epidemiology, 188:96-101.

Pawlikowski, J., Białowolski, P., Węziak-Białowolska, D., and VanderWeele, T.J. (2019). Religious service attendance, health behaviors and well-being – an outcome wide longitudinal analysis. European Journal of Public Health, 9:1177-1183.

Chen, Y. and VanderWeele, T.J. (2018). Associations of religious upbringing with subsequent health and well-being from adolescence to young adulthood: an outcome-wide analysis. American Journal of Epidemiology, 187:2355–2364.

Li, S., Kubzansky, L.D., VanderWeele, T.J. (2018). Religious service attendance, divorce, and remarriage among U.S. Nurses in mid and late life. PLoS One, 13(12): e0207778.

VanderWeele, T.J., Yu, J., Cozier, Y.C., Wise, L., Argentieri, M.A., Rosenberg, L., Palmer, J.R., and Shields, A.E. (2017). Religious service attendance, prayer, religious coping, and religious-spiritual identity as predictors of all-cause mortality in the Black Women’s Health Study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 185:515-522.

Li, S., Okereke, O.I., Chang, S.-C., Kawachi, I., and VanderWeele, T.J. (2016). Religious service attendance and depression among women – a prospective cohort study. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 50:876-884.

VanderWeele, T.J., Li, S., Tsai, A., and Kawachi, I. (2016). Association between religious service attendance and lower suicide rates among US women. JAMA Psychiatry, 73(8):845-851.

Li, S., Stamfer, M., Williams, D.R. and VanderWeele, T.J. (2016). Association between religious service attendance and mortality among women. JAMA Internal Medicine, 2016;176(6):777-785.

Summary, Synthesis and Commentary:

VanderWeele, T.J. (2021). Effects of religious service attendance and religious importance on depression: examining the meta-analytic evidence. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 31:21-26.

VanderWeele, T.J. and Chen, Y. (2020). Religion as a social determinant of health. American Journal of Epidemiology, 189:1464-1466.

VanderWeele, T.J. (2018). Religious communities. In: Kivimaki, M., Batty, D.G., Kawachi, I., and Steptoe, A. (eds.). Routledge International Handbook of Psychosocial Epidemiology. Routledge, 114-135.

VanderWeele, T.J. (2018). Religious communities, health, and well-being - Address to the US Air Force Chaplain. Military Medicine, 183:105-109.

VanderWeele, T.J. (2017). Religion and health: a synthesis. In: Balboni, M.J. and Peteet, J.R. (eds.). Spirituality and Religion within the Culture of Medicine: From Evidence to Practice. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, p 357-401.

VanderWeele, T.J. (2017). Religious communities and human flourishing. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 26:476-481.

VanderWeele, T.J., Li, S. and Kawachi, I. (2017). Re: Religious service attendance and suicide rates. JAMA Psychiatry, 74:197-198.

VanderWeele, T.J., Palmer, J.R., and Shields, A.E. (2017). Re: Church attendance and mortality. American Journal of Epidemiology, 185:526-528.

VanderWeele, T.J. (2017). Physical activity and physical and mental well-being in church settings. American Journal of Public Health, 107:1023-1024.

VanderWeele, T.J., Jackson, J.W., and Li, S. (2016). Causal inference and longitudinal data: a case study of religion and mental health. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 51(11):1457-1466.


Spirituality and Religion in Medicine and Public Health

In the project on Religion in Medicine and Public Health, we aim to carry out research and reflection on how religious concerns, viewpoints, and communities can best be integrated with medicine and public health. This ranges from how religion and spirituality and clergy involvement might inform medical decision-making, patient care, and public health practice to how public health institutions, religious communities, and faith-based organization can partner together to promote health and well-being.

Publications on Spirituality in Medicine and Public Health 

VanderWeele, T.J., Balboni, T.A., Koh, H.K. (2022). Religious service attendance and implications for clinical care, community participation and public health. American Journal of Epidemiology, 191:31-35.

Balboni, T.A., VanderWeele, T.J., Doan-Soares, S.D., Long, K.N.G., Ferrell, B., Fitchett, G., Koenig, H.G., Bain, P., Puchalski, C., Steinhauser, K.E., Sulmasy, D.P., and Koh, H.K. (2022). Spirituality in Serious Illness and Health. JAMA, 328:184-197.

VanderWeele, T.J., Long, K. and Balboni, M.J. (2021). On tradition-specific measures of spiritual well-being. In: M. Lee, L.D. Kubzansky, and T.J. VanderWeele (Eds.). Measuring Well-Being: Interdisciplinary Perspectives from the Social Sciences and the Humanities. Oxford University Press, Chapter 16: 482-498.

VanderWeele, T.J. (2020). Spiritual well-being and human flourishing: conceptual, causal, and policy relations. In: A.B. Cohen (Ed.). Religion and Human Flourishing. Baylor University Press, 43-54.

Koenig, H.G., Peteet, J.R., and VanderWeele, T.J. (2020). Religion and psychiatry: clinical applications. British Journal of Psychiatry - Advances, 26:273-281.

Koenig, H.G., Al-Zaben, F., and VanderWeele, T.J. (2020). Religion and psychiatry: recent developments in research. British Journal of Psychiatry - Advances, 26:262-272.

Chen, Y., and VanderWeele, T.J. (2020). Spirituality, religion and suicide. In: D.H. Rosmarin and H.G. Koenig (Eds.): Handbook of Spirituality, Religion, and Mental Health, 2nd Edition, Academic Press, p. 27-40.

Long K.N.G., Gregg R.J., VanderWeele, T.J., Oman, D., and Laird, L.D. (2019). Boundary Crossing: meaningfully engaging religious traditions and religious institutions in public health. Religions, 10(7):412.

Idler, E., Levin, J., VanderWeele, T.J., and Khan, A. (2019). Partnerships between public health agencies and faith communities. American Journal of Public Health, 109:346-347.

VanderWeele, T.J., Balboni, M.J., Balboni, T.A. (2018). The Initiative on Health, Religion and Spirituality at Harvard: from research to education. In Oman, D. (ed.). Why Religion and Spirituality Matter for Public Health: Evidence, Implications, and Resources. Springer-Verlag, p. 371-382. 

Balboni, M.J. and Balboni, T.A. (2018). Hostility to Hospitality: Spirituality and Professional Socialization within Medicine. Oxford University Press.

VanderWeele, T.J. (2018). Is forgiveness a public health issue?American Journal of Public Health, 108:189-190. 

VanderWeele, T.J., Balboni, T.A., Koh, H.K. (2017). Health and spiritualityJAMA, 318(6):519-520. 

VanderWeele, T.J. and Koenig, H.G. (2017). A course on religion and public health at Harvard. American Journal of Public Health, 107:47-49.


Theology of Health

The Theology of Health project aims to make contributions towards developing a theology concerning the concept of health. Considerable attention has been given to the theology of health care provision, but the theology of health itself - what health is, how it is to be understood, how it relates to theological understandings of the human person - is much less well developed. The third aim of the project is to help fill this gap in the literature.

VanderWeele Lecture on Religion and Health