Religion and health

More than 3000 empirical studies have examined relationships between religion and health, including more than 1200 in the 20th century,[1] and more than 2000 additional studies between 2000 and 2009.[2] Various other reviews of the religion/spirituality and health literature have been published. These include two reviews[3][4] from an NIH-organized expert panel that appeared in a 4-article special section of American Psychologist.[5] Several chapters in edited academic books have also reviewed the empirical literature.[6] Having a religious belief may have both positive and negatives impacts on health and morbidity.

Positive effects

A study in the 1996 (Kark et al.) has found that death rates for 3900 Israelis in religious and non-religious settlements over a period of 16 years were lower in religious communities. The authors cite a number of possible reasons mostly associated with lower stress levels in a religious community.

Church attendance has been found to increase life expectancy (Hummer et al. 1999) with a life expectancy at age 20 of 83 years for frequent attendees and 75 years for non-attendees. The finding, however, does not prove that religion in itself increases life expectancy.

Mental health

In a study of patients hospitalized for depression, people of faith were found to have less suicidal behavior and beliefs than atheists.[7]


A number of religious practices have been reported to cause infections. These happened during an ultra-orthodox Jewish circumcisions practice known as metzitzah b'peh, the ritual 'side roll' in Hinduism,[note 1] the Christian communion chalice, during the Islamic Hajj and after the Muslim ritual ablution.[8][9]

Negative effects

The existence of ‘religious struggle’ in elderly patients was predictive of greater risk of mortality in a study by Pargament et al. 2001 . Results indicate that patients, with a previously sound religious life, experienced a 19% to 28% greater mortality due to the belief that God was supposedly punishing them or abandoning them.

Exline et al. 1999 showed that the difficulty in forgiving God and alienation from God were associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety. Among those who currently believed in God, forgiving God for a specific, unfortunate incident predicted lower levels of anxious and depressed mood.

See also


  1. ^ Koenig, Harold G.; McCullough, Michael E.; Larson, David B. (2001). Handbook of Religion and Health (1st ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN .  OCLC 468554547
  2. ^ Koenig, Harold G.; King, Dana E.; Carson, Verna Benner (2012). Handbook of Religion and Health (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN .  OCLC 691927968
  3. ^ Powell, Lynda H.; Shahabi, Leila; Thoresen, Carl E. (2003). "Religion and spirituality: Linkages to physical health". American Psychologist 58 (1): 36–52. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.58.1.36. 
  4. ^ Seeman, Teresa E.; Dubin, Linda Fagan; Seeman, Melvin (2003). "Religiosity/spirituality and health: A critical review of the evidence for biological pathways". American Psychologist 58 (1): 53–63. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.58.1.53. 
  5. ^ Miller, William R.; Thoresen, Carl E. (2003). "Spirituality, religion, and health: An emerging research field". American Psychologist 58 (1): 24–35. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.58.1.24. 
  6. ^ Doug Oman & Carl E. Thoresen (2005), "Do religion and spirituality influence health?" In:Paloutzian, Raymond F.; Park, Crystal L. (Eds.) (2005). Handbook of the psychology of religion and spirituality (1st ed.). New York: Guilford Press. pp. 435–459. ISBN . 
  7. ^ "Religious Affiliation and Suicide Attempt"
  8. ^ Pellerin, J.; Edmond, M. B. (2013). "Infections associated with religious rituals". International Journal of Infectious Diseases 17 (11): e945–e948. PMID 23791225. doi:10.1016/j.ijid.2013.05.001. 
  9. ^ Kannathasan, S.; Murugananthan, A.; Rajeshkannan,, N.; Renuka de Silva, N. (25 January 2012). "Cutaneous Larva Migrans among Devotees of the Nallur Temple in Jaffna, Sri Lanka" 7 (1). PloS ONE. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030516. Retrieved 26 February 2014. 

Further Reading

  • Astin, John A. (1997). Stress Reduction through Mindfulness Meditation: Effects on Psychological Symptomatology, Sense of Control, and Spiritual Experiences
  • R. Hummer, et al. (1999). `Religious involvement and U.S. adult mortality'. Demography 36(2):273-285.
  • Kark JD, Shemi G, Friedlander Y, Martin O, Manor O, Blondheim SH. (1996) Does religious observance promote health? mortality in secular vs religious kibbutzim in Israel.
  • Hughes M. Helm, et al. (2000) Does Private Religious Activity Prolong Survival? A Six-Year Follow-up Study of 3,851 Older Adults
  • Exline JJ, Yali AM, Lobel M. When God disappoints: difficulty forgiving God and its role in negative emotion. J Health Psychol. 1999;4:365-379.
  • Kenneth I. Pargament, PhD; Harold G. Koenig, MD; Nalini Tarakeshwar, MA; June Hahn, PhD. (2001). Religious Struggle as a Predictor of Mortality Among Medically Ill Elderly Patients
  • Scott Atran (2003) Genesis of Suicide Terrorism


  1. ^ The ‘side roll’ is a ritual performed during a Hindu festival in which large numbers of male devotees lie prostrate on the ground and roll sideways around the temple premises in fulfilment of vows taken at the temple. Because the men’s upper bodies are usually bare during this ritual, their skin comes into contact with the parasitic larvae that infest the soil or sand on the ground, resulting in the Cutaneous larva migrans (CLM) skin disease.