Friday, May 8, 2009

some preliminary thoughts on faith and health

"What does it mean to be a feminist of faith?

Specifically, what does it mean to be a Catholic feminist? Is this a living contradiction? Can the two blend together in a search for truth, meaning, or even justice?

How can two radically different ideologies and practice possibly come together?" ~Excerpt from "Emerging, a Feminist Faith" by Lisa Factora-Borchers of the blog My Ecdysis [1]

Full disclosure: I am an atheist, from an atheist family. However, the questions on faith, specifically the contradictions between different (but interconnected) parts of one's identity, did resonate with me. More importantly, given the significance of faith in many communities, as well a the diversity of traditions around faith, I definitely wanted to get the conversation started on faith, spirituality and religion.

I grew up in a quiet little suburb outside of DC among many second generation Chinese-Americans. For a lot of my classmates, Christianity and God were a big deal; I would overhear many of my Chinese-American classmates talk about church or read their Xanga posts discussing their faith. (Asian-Nation has a breakdown of the religious affiliations of APIs.) As an angry pro-choice queer atheist, I didn't really understand the appeal or the necessity of these institutions and faith for a while, not until my mother explained to me that churches were often a way for new Chinese immigrants to quickly develop social ties to others from China.

In recent years, there have been several studies linking religion, spirituality, meditation and wellness. Some studies have found that religious involvement is associated with positive self-perceptions of health, life satisfaction, and pyschological wellness. [2] Additionally, many have concluded that religious service attendance often serves as a form of social tie:

"[T]hese various forms of spirituality and faith help Asian Americans to deal with the upheavals of immigration, adapting to a new country, and other difficult personal and social transformations by providing a safe and comfortable environment in which immigrants can socialize, share information, and assist each other. In this process, religious traditions can help in the process of forming Asian immigrant communities by giving specific Asian ethnic groups another source of solidarity, in addition to their common ethnicity, on which to build relationships and cooperation." [3, 4]

However, despite the significance of religion, little research has been done specifically on the second generation, or even on the role of faith in API health issues. [5] Some questions I've been thinking about include, how sensitive are providers to the religious needs of the groups within the API community in regards to health care? How can health and spirituality be integrated into the promotion of a healthy lifestyle? Some examples offered by Musgrave and her colleagues seriously excite me, such as a community needs assessment survey done by members of a congregation, or starting up a faith-based health education program for cancer survivors. [2]

I also think that the questions that Factora-Borchers poses should be seriously considered in our communities, including the relationship to culture, health and health care access. For some of my friends who are also queer APIs (or allies), reconciling faith and being queer is a huge deal in itself. Additionally, for many, there is also the fear of hostility from health care providers when it comes to dealing with queer and reproductive health issues. After all, in the U.S., there are several laws that protect pharmacists from dispensing emergency contraception or providers from performing abortions based solely on personal objections. I would also imagine that addressing issues such as sexual health and drug use with our own families can be really intense , as well.

Factora-Borchers ends her post with something that I know I'll be thinking a lot about:

"I am a womyn, a feminist of faith. And for all the questions, contradictions, and controversy that brings - well, it's better to face those things head on, with no pretense, than to submit to a writing life with no authentic tongue." [1]

Please let me know if you want to do a guest blog on this topic!

On the book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: it is a pretty well known book on the clash between Hmong culture and western medicine, but I would check out this review on WWW Hmong Homepage first.

[1] "Emerging, a Feminist Faith" by Lisa Factora-Borchers, from the blog My Ecdysis.
[2] "Spirituality and Health for Women of Color" by Catherine F. Musgrave, DNSc, RN, Carol Easley Allen, PhD, RN and Gregory J. Allen, ThD
[3] "Religion and Health: Historical Perspectives, Current NIH Research, and Implications for Public Health" by Ellen Idler, PhD.
[4] "Spirituality, Religion and Faith" on Asian-Nation
[5] "What It Means to be Christian: The Role of Religion in the Construction of Ethnic Identity and Boundary among Second-Generation Korean-Americans" by Kelly H. Chong

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