Return to Contents


Health care, the elderly, and the church
Faith communities should be of interest to public health, as well as to medicine. A huge demographic shift is going on due to great advances in longevity and the number of the elderly. In thirty years, we’re not going to be able to provide health care to the large number of people over sixty-five. . . . As a doctor, I see hospital stays shortening. A recent article in Science predicted that in the future, hospitals will look like intensive care units, nursing homes will look like acute care units, and the rest of health care will back up into the community—into private homes. It seems like there’s a natural connection between care of the population, especially the elderly, and the church.

—Harold Koenig, professor of gerontology and psychology at Duke University, speaking at a seminar on Religion, Healing, and Public Health, on November 15, 2002

“Reading” religious violence

The dilemma is not one of simply adding more social, political, or economic context to our analyses of violence. The real challenge—at once ethical and epistemological—is in recognizing the sometimes hidden but always troubling continuities between our intellectual resources and analytic tools and those of the people [who commit religious violence] whom we study. In particular, I am convinced that the only way we can make headway today in the analysis of religious violence is through the anthropological adaptation of phenomenological paradigms. In other words, we need to know more about the social experience of perpetrators and of the ideological communities that stand behind them, of the local, moral worlds in which such violence is deemed meaningful.

The fact that so many anthropologists are functionally illiterate in the complicated textual traditions of the people they study means that they are likely to ignore the powerful hermeneutic drive that helps push extremist discourse forward. When classical texts and contemporary [violent] events are held up as prisms through which to view one another, the lived experience of the confrontation with those texts and events changes in ways that neither cultural determinism nor structural analyses of cultural systems can adequately describe.

—Don Seeman, lecturer in sociology at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, speaking at a colloquium sponsored by the Center for Health, Culture, and Society, on December 5, 2002