There are many claims that religious and spiritual belief and practice lead to better physical and mental health. What is the evidence underlying these claims and how good is the research? This paper argues that although published research shows that there is a positive statistical relationship between religion and health, the size of that health gain is extremely small. Furthermore, it would seem that spirituality divorced from religious practice may be associated with worse mental health. Much of the research is poorly conducted and some researchers hold strong personal beliefs that may influence its interpretation. Differences between research findings in the USA and Europe may help us to understand why some findings conflict.
This article was first delivered as a keynote speech at the Third International Conference of the British Association for the Study of Spirituality, Spirituality in a Challenging World.
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