Emory Report

March 16, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 24

Carter Center Update

Emory Joins Carter Center's
"Faith and Health Consortium"

The power of prayer. Some believe in it; others do not. Traditionally-religious faith has been perceived by many in society as more helpful to people on an emotional level than on a physical one. But that may be changing.

Significant research being done today on the links between faith and health is yielding surprising and meaningful connections between the two. And many religious groups are beginning to network more with various local agencies to improve health at a grassroots level.

More than a passing trend, emphasis on faith and health is generating fascinating new studies and projects, not only in the fields of religion and medicine but academia as well. To promote development of related curricula, training programs for religion and public health professionals and "best practices" research, The Carter Center's Interfaith Health Program (IHP) recently formed a "Faith and Health Consortium" with five leading U.S. universities: Emory, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, South Carolina and California, Berkeley.

A core of the three-year project, funded through the Templeton Foundation, is for the schools of public health at each of the participating universities to collaborate with nearby seminaries and various community partners. Like Emory, several of the universities have schools of theology, nursing and medicine through which related studies also may be done. It is expected that each of the sites will be self-sustaining after three years and autonomous in choosing specific objectives.

The consortium's goal is to strengthen partnerships between religion and health leaders at a local level but also to use those partnerships as a foundation upon which to build enhanced systems of health, explained Fran Wenger, the program's coordinator and former associate professor of nursing at Emory. "By having schools of public health work with seminaries, we hope to develop even more courses linking faith and health so students from disciplines like theology, public health and nursing can use what they learn from such classes to approach their professions-and communities-from a fresh perspective.

"We also see the consortium as a way of discovering and sharing innovative public health models that both domestic and international groups can emulate," she added.

Currently IHP offers a list of more than 30 faith and health courses on its web site at http://www.ihpnet.org/ as well as descriptions of various public health models established in cities across the United States. "As the work of the consortium develops," said Wenger, "we will consider publishing a yearly collection of papers about resulting studies and findings. We also anticipate having several international sites by the year 2000."

An example of the type of project the consortium will undertake is "Families and Youth 2000," an initiative coordinated by Christian Life Skills, a grassroots community group that works in partnership with the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. "Families and Youth 2000 is designed to enhance the health and well-being of African Americans [who comprise] more than 80 percent of families in the East End of our city," explained Project Director Barbara Rogers. "This collaboration consists of three local agencies and four churches. Together we offer services ranging from drug counseling and parenting classes to job training and primary medical care, including outpatient mental health services. Through the Faith and Health Consortium, we hope to strengthen this program and serve as a model from which communities with similar challenges can learn."

On April 14, as part of Emory's yearly Religion and Health Connection series, IHP staff will speak about the goals of the consortium and the role Emory and local organizations such as the Interdenominational Theological Center will play. "We hope to get people as excited as we are about the endless possibilities this collaboration can bring," said Wenger. "By combining the talents, abilities and interests of academic and community leaders, there is no limit to what may be accomplished."

For information about the Religion and Health Connection lecture, call 404-727-6225. The meeting will be held in the Cox Hall dining room from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. A luncheon selection of soup and salad will be available for $3 per person.

Ann Carney is assistant director of public information at The Carter Center.

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