Harriet Luckman

Friday, 22 April 2005 10:54

Higher powers

From lawsuits addressing questionable business practices to public outcry on both sides of the Terri Schiavo situation, Americans are finding themselves more involved in questions of ethics, spirituality and God than they have been in decades.

Religion and spirituality have also found an audience in major television reporting and Hollywood movies, including the phenomenal popularity of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ."

With this growing interest and sense in the American populace, professionals are finding themselves in need of vocabulary and information when discussing religion and spirituality. Following the attacks of Sept. 11 and with the increasing visibility of Islamic culture and religion, it has become of major importance for professionals to be informed about religious ideologies and spirituality, whether or not they practice any particular religion themselves .

Perhaps as never before, Americans need to address intelligently the question of God and even more so, the question of spirituality. One area in which spirituality has become almost the topic du jour is in American schools of medicine, -- many now not only provide courses on spirituality for their medical students but require at least one course on spirituality before graduation.

Today's professional, particularly in the health sciences, needs to be aware of such traditionally religious topics as:

* The need for purpose and reason beyond what we can see or hear

* End of life issues that bring the family, as well as the patient, to a sense of peace and dignity as their life or the life of a loved one comes to an end

* The question of organ donation and extraordinary life support options and, when one's faith or spirituality would dictate, one form of treatment over another or the denial of treatment

* The growing use of hospice care for terminally ill patients and the differences between hospice and traditional hospitals

* The ability to address responsibly and compassionately the human questions of suffering and pain

These and other questions with a spiritual or religious base require ever more intelligent and responsible answers, and the need for professionals to be conversant in spirituality grows with each generation.

As we move further into the 21st century, these fundamental questions of human life will become ever more central, not only on America's stage but the world's stage, as well, to find an intelligent and common basis for expressing and honoring that part of the human person termed the "spiritual."

Harriet A. Luckman, Ph.D., is associate professor of religious studies and director of the Spirituality Institute at the College of Mount St. Joseph, which will address the topic of Spirituality and Healing from June 20 to June 24. She has authored numerous articles on spirituality and the history of Christianity, and has lectured and published internationally. Reach her at harriet_luckman@mail.msj.edu.