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The Four Arguments


We’ve seen the headlines: Spirituality and religion are good for you, most researchers agree. But why?

This article appeared in our February 2004 issue. The past five or six years have seen an escalating number of studies offering evidence for the health benefits of religious practice and spirituality. This evidence in turn is leading to a growing awareness that medical science and religion now have a basis for a new and progressive partnership, in which medicine becomes more spiritual, and religion gains new utility and status in the scientific world. But researchers and theologians do not reach the same conclusions. To understand what is going on, we must look at four distinct arguments now emerging. Argument 1: Going to church is good for your health In the late 1960s, researchers began to find that social isolation contributed to heart disease. Some studies suggested that living in traditional close-knit communities protects people from heart disease. Others indicated that more isolated people tended to be sicker and die earlier than those more socially embedded. Not surprisingly, various studies suggested that church attendance was negatively correlated with any number of health problems, espec …

Anne Harrington is a professor of the history of Science at Harvard University and co-director of the Harvard University Mind, Brain, and Behavior Initiative.

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