Religious Communities

Project Leader: Tyler VanderWeele

The project on religious communities consists of three components. First, we aim to carry out original empirical research on how religious communities affect various aspects of flourishing including health, happiness, meaning and purpose, and close social relationships.

Second, the project aims to summarize the most rigorous research in this area of religious communities and human flourishing outcomes and to relate it to traditions within theology and philosophy. A central component of the review and summary of empirical research is evaluating the strength of the evidence in what is a very large literature. Although numerous studies have suggested that participation in religious communities has a beneficial association with a variety of health outcomes, much of the empirical research relating religious participation to health outcomes is problematic because of the issue of "reverse causation" - the possibility that attending religious services might be associated with health only because it is only those who are healthy who can attend. Rigorous designs with longitudinal data over time are necessary to control for this possibility and our own empirical research and also our research synthesis summary has restricted attention to those studies with such rigorous designs.

The third aim of this project is to make contributions towards a theology of health. Considerable attention has been given to the theology of health care provision, but the theology of health itself - what health is, how it is to be understood, how it relates to theological understandings of the human person - is much less well developed. The third aim of the project is to help fill this gap in the literature.


Media Coverage

Information on the media reporting for the religious communities project is given here.


Publications on Religious Communities and Flourishing 

VanderWeele, T.J., Li, S., Tsai, A., and Kawachi, I. (2016). Association between religious service attendance and lower suicide rates among US women. JAMA Psychiatry, 73(8):845-851.

Li, S., Stamfer, M., Williams, D.R. and VanderWeele, T.J. (2016). Association of religious service attendance with mortality among women. JAMA Internal Medicine, 176:777-785.

Li, S., Okereke, O.I., Chang, S.-C., Kawachi, I., and VanderWeele, T.J. (2016). Religious service attendance and depression among women – a prospective cohort study. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 50:876-884.

VanderWeele, T.J., Jackson, J.W., and Li, S. (2016). Causal inference and longitudinal data: a case study of religion and mental health. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 51(11):1457-1466.

VanderWeele, T.J. (2017). Religion and health: a synthesis. In: Peteet, J.R. and Balboni, M.J. (eds.). Spirituality and Religion within the Culture of Medicine: From Evidence to Practice. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

VanderWeele, T.J., Yu, J., Cozier, Y.C., Wise, L., Argentieri, M.A., Rosenberg, L., Palmer, J.R., and Shields, A.E. (2017). Religious service attendance, prayer, religious coping, and religious-spiritual identity as predictors of all-cause mortality in the Black Women’s Health Study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 185:515-522.

VanderWeele, T.J., Palmer, J.R., and Shields, A.E. (2017). Re: Explaining the relationship between attending worship services and mortality: a brief excursion into the contribution of social relationships in religious institutions. American Journal of Epidemiology, 185:526-528.

VanderWeele, T.J., Balboni, M.J., Balboni, T.A. (2017). The Initiative on Health, Religion and Spirituality at Harvard. In Oman, D. (ed.). Why Religion and Spirituality Matter for Public Health - Evidence, Implications, and Resources. Springer-Verlag.

VanderWeele, T.J. and Koenig, H.G. (2017). A course on religion and public health at Harvard. American Journal of Public Health, 107:47-49.