Religious Communities

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

The Program has received significant media coverages for its innovative work on the role religious communities play in human flourishing. A variety of media reports can be seen here.

Publications on Religious Communities and Flourishing

VanderWeele, T.J., Balboni, T.A., Koh, H.K. (2017). Health and spirituality. JAMA, 318(6):519-520.

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, p 357-401.

VanderWeele, T.J. (2017). Religious communities and human flourishing. Current Directions in Psychological Science, in press.

VanderWeele, T.J., Li, S. and Kawachi, I. (2017). Re: Religious service attendance and suicide rates. JAMA Psychiatry, 74:197-198.

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: Church attendance and mortality. American Journal of Epidemiology, 185:526-528.

VanderWeele, T.J. (2017). Religious community in health, health behaviors, and well-being. In: Kivimaki, M., Batty, G.D., Kawachi, I., and Steptoe, A. (eds.). Handbook of Psychosocial Epidemiology. Routledge, in press.

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.

VanderWeele, T.J. (2017). Physical activity and physical and mental well-being in church settings. American Journal of Public Health, 107:1023-1024.

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., 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.