WASHINGTON, NOV. 24, 2008--Many religions teach that selflessly "doing unto others" brings rewards in the hereafter. But what about the here?
A growing body of research shows that religious practices are, in fact, strikingly beneficial at promoting health and general well-being--research that will be outlined more fully at an extraordinary one-day conference, "Religious Practice and Health: What the Research Says."
Sponsored by The Heritage Foundation, the conference will feature a roster of top academics who bring a wealth of experience and data to this important, little-understood issue. It will be held Wednesday, Dec. 3, from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C.
"Anyone interested in the link between religion and health will want to attend this event--journalists, policymakers, researchers and health practitioners," says Jennifer Marshall, director of Heritage's DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society. "We hope to spark a better and more informed public discussion of religion."
Stephen G. Post, Ph.D., co-author of the book "Why Good Things Happen to Good People," will explain the "science of goodness" in a luncheon keynote address.
"It's good to be good," Dr. Post says. "People who live generously are, on the whole, happier and healthier, and they live a little longer than those who aren't generosity-oriented."
Dr. Post should know. He serves as director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics in the School of Medicine at Stony Brook University in New York. Earlier this year, he completed 10 years as professor of bioethics and family medicine in the School of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
"No matter your economic circumstance," Dr. Post says, "probably the most beneficial way to cope with the current situation is to maintain a habit of personal generosity."
An increasing variety of studies helps make his point, including one that found volunteers are less likely to be depressed. Even thinking about generosity stimulates pleasure in our brains, he says.
"Is religion good for your health? It depends," cautions another conference participant, Kenneth I. Pargament, professor of psychology at Ohio's Bowling Green State University and one of the researchers examining how to measure faith. Factors, he says, include why, when and how a person is religious--as well as who and where the person is.
"All things being equal, religious people need and use fewer health care services," says another speaker, Harold G. Koenig, M.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. "They are healthier, more likely to have intact families to care for them, and have greater social support."
Such research-based conclusions fly in the face of the more cynical aspects of the culture, which denigrate love of neighbor, Dr. Post notes, as well as the notion that only big government can take on social ills.
"There's no way in the world bureaucracies and government requirements can substitute for the authentic actions of giving," he says. "It's in these small details that people become fully human."
Hosted by Heritage with its research partners, Child Trends and Baylor Institute for the Studies of Religion, "Religious Practice and Health" is supported by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation.
For more details on the event and free registration, visit the conference Web site at heritage.org/ReligionResearchConference.