Spirituality and Social Justice

Posted on September 8, 2014 by

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In the current ANS featured article, author Sheryl Reimer-Kirkham, PhD, RN explores an area of scholarship that is rare in nursing literature – the interplay between social justice, religion, spirituality, health, and nursing. The article is titled “Nursing Research on Religion and Spirituality Through a Social Justice Lens.” Dr. Reimer-Kirkham uses the critical perspectives of postcolonial feminism and intersectionality to inform nursing’s perspectives on spirituality and social justice. She has shared this background about her work in this area:

Bringing together critical perspectives (such as postcolonial feminism and intersectionality) and research on religion and spirituality in nursing has opened up new and productive terrain.  And yet, conversations on religion/spirituality and social justice can be contentious:  for some religion is dismissed as too irrational, too political or violent, or too bound up in structures of power; for others religious/spiritual beliefs are held as too “sacred” for objective, scholarly analysis.  Such contentions leave many to appeal to secularism as the way to manage religion and spirituality in the public sphere.

Dr. Reimer-Kirkham

Dr. Reimer-Kirkham

However, attempting neat separations between religion and the secular can, according to philosopher Charles Taylor, do more to obscure what is going on in our world than clarify the moral issues we face.  Shying away from critical analyses of the intersections of faith with nursing, religion/spirituality with social justice and equity, leaves us open to incomplete analyses, and fails to account for influences on the values, beliefs and practices of many of our patients.  Several recently published books by nurse scholars move beyond generic approaches to spirituality to engage more specifically with the influence of various religious traditions.  See for example Stajduhar and Coward’s (2012) Religious understandings of a good death in hospice palliative care, SUNY Press; Taylor’s (2012) Religion: A clinical guide for nurses, Springer; and Fowler et al.’s (2011) Religion, Religious Ethics and Nursing,Springer.

My entrée into the integration of religion/spirituality with critical research came about during my doctoral research that examined intergroup relations in hospital settings.  As I conducted this ethnographic research, I realized that many of the hardspots described by nurses and patients in intergroup interactions were directly shaped by religious perspectives and often involved accommodating religious values and rituals, and yet these situations were nearly always conveyed to me as cultural matters.  While there is significant overlap between culture and religion/spirituality, there are also important distinctions. So I have worked toward more intentional analyses of religion and spirituality in the context of health and healthcare, and am convinced of the importance of intersectional approaches in such scholarship. Intersectional analyses inevitably require that we take seriously social relations of power mobilized through religion as it intersects with gender, race, class, ability, and other social categories; particularly as these social relations contribute to equity and inequity.  The relationship between social justice and religion is critical, but not always straight forward.  Human rights and religious accommodation can, in fact, represent competing interests (e.g., religious freedom vis-à-vis heteronormativity or patriarchy).

In this manuscript, I propose critical nursing scholarship on how religion and spirituality relate to social justice and social transformation in the context of health and healthcare. I look forward to your views on the matter!

I too hope you will read Dr. Reimer-Kirkham’s article and return here to join in a discussion of her ideas!  You can download the article at no cost while it is featured on the ANS web site!  

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