Religion and Belief in Health and Social Care: the case for Religious Literacy

Dinham, Adam. 2018. Religion and Belief in Health and Social Care: the case for Religious Literacy. International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare, 11(2), pp. 83-90. ISSN 2056-4902 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

The relationship between religion and belief and health and social care practice has been scarcely addressed, despite the important work of Furness and Gilligan in the UK and Canda in the US. Their work appears as exceptional within a wider context of professions which have been forged in a predominantly secular milieu, despite having their roots in Christian social services in the US, Canada and the UK. New research in the sociology of religion shows that religion and belief themselves vary in form, number and mix around the world, and that the religious landscape itself has changed enormously in the period during which secular social work has been operating within state stystems. It has been observed that in the UK secular assumptions reached a peak of confidence in the 1960s, when social work was most rapidly consolidating as a public profession (Dinham 2015). The inheritance has been generations of health and social care practitioners and educators who are ill-equipped to address the religion and belief identities which they encounter. In recent years this has become a pressing issue as societies across the West come to terms with the persistent – and in some ways growing – presence of religion or belief.. 84% of the global population declares a religious affiliation (Pew 2012); globalisation and migration put us all in to daily encounter with religious plurality as citizens, neighbours, service users and professionals; and internationally, mixed economies of welfare increasingly involve faith groups in service provision, including in social work and welfare settings across Europe and North America. Yet the 20th Century – the secular century – leaves behind a lamentable quality of conversation about religion and belief. Public professionals find themselves precarious on the subject, and largely unable to engage systematically and informedly with religion and belief as they encounter them. Religion and belief have been bracketed off in education in departments of Theology and Religious Studies. Social Work education has largely neglected them, and professional standards, benchmarks, values and toolkits, have tended to use proxies for religion and belief, such as ‘spirituality’, which are often ill-defined and vague. In a context of the reemergence of public faith, and a widespread acknowledgement that religion and belief did not go away after all, health and social care face the pressing challenge of engaging skilfully. This article draws on an action research programme in the UK to address this through the notion of religious literacy. Reflecting on original research and analysis in UK higher education settings, the article will argue that health and social care educators, policy makers and practitioners need to develop their religious literacy in order to engage fully and competently with the religion and belief identities of their service users in a religiously diverse and complex world.

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Identification Number (DOI):


religious literacy, belief, spirituality, social work

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Social, Therapeutic & Community Engagement (STaCS) > Faiths and Civil Society


24 November 2017Accepted
June 2018Published Online

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

08 Dec 2017 16:48

Last Modified:

20 Jun 2018 14:38

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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