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Lecture focuses on spirituality, medicine

Sam Stryker | Monday, September 28, 2009

Spirituality is a term that is broadly used, yet difficult to define and is increasingly becoming of importance in the medical community, according to Dr. Philip Sheldrake of the Univer-sity of Wales and Dr. Harold Koenig of Duke University Medical Center.

Sheldrake and Koenig spoke Friday at Saint Mary’s College on the topic of spirituality.

Sheldrake focused on the nature of spirituality while Koenig spoke of spirituality’s importance in modern medicine.

Sheldrake said the word spirituality is a defining one of our modern era because it is so commonly used. He said it is beginning to contrast with religion.

“Spirituality is a better fit to our contemporary era,” Sheldrake said. “All of us can have a spirituality. It’s personalized and it’s democratic.”

Spirituality is tough to define, he said, but humans have a sense of what it’s about. Sheldrake brought up what he called “family resemblances” that linked different types of spirituality.

Sheldrake said spirituality is holistic, and involves a quest for the sacred. Spirituality is a search for meaning and has something to do with finding identity. It also involves the integration of a whole life and expresses the development of life beyond the physical.

“We are vision-creating beings, not just tool-creating animals,” Sheldrake said. “We are driven by goals that are more than physical satisfaction or mental supremacy.”

Sheldrake concluded his portion of the lecture by describing three questions of meaning that pertain to the relation between the medical community and spiritual.

He said humans question why they are in this world, who they really are and how they can become more than they are. States of unhealthiness occurs when problems related to these questions arise, Sheldrake said.

Koenig noted the relation between religious beliefs and the transcendent and contrasted religion and spirituality.

“Spirituality is broader, more popular and harder to define,” he said. “Individuals define it for themselves. It’s free from many rules, regulations and responsibilities associated with religion.”

Koenig said some theorize that the belief in God leads to positive mental health and consequently results in better physical health.

He said such qualities as forgiveness, altruism and gratefulness are related to the link between good mental and physical health. He said though these traits do not compose spirituality itself, they are of importance.

“Positive emotions are not spirituality itself but consequences of a spiritual life,” Koenig said.

Koenig urged the modern medical community to begin to integrate spirituality into their practices, noting the importance of practitioners being knowledgeable of their patients’ spiritual history.

“Many patients are religious and would like it addressed in health care,” he said. “Religion influences support and care in the community.”