By Alex Wawro and Paul S. PintoPublished Oct 07, 2019 11:07:59With the arrival of the first Ebola patient in Texas, the debate over religion in healthcare has escalated to a point where the religious sciences are taking center stage.
Dr. Brian L. Stokes, a physician and director of the University of Texas Health Science Center, is one of the foremost advocates for the advancement of religion in health care.
He was honored in October as a MacArthur Fellow.
“I think the debate has really heated up in the last year,” said Stokes.
“I think it’s been exacerbated by what I call the religious science panic.”
A major driver behind this resurgence is the emergence of the so-called “religious science panic” as a national epidemic that has led to a dramatic surge in medical schools and hospitals that are trying to adapt to the new arrivals.
It has been described by some religious scholars as the next “disasters of the 21st century,” as they contend that medical science has been hijacked by science and religion to promote a culture of self-absorption.
“We are not the experts on the subject,” said Dr. John F. Kennedy, an emeritus professor of medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center, which is one one of several academic institutions that have declared themselves religious.
The new emphasis on the science of religion and the rise of new religious studies, which are increasingly being used in medical settings, have been credited with driving up enrollment and decreasing the number of infectious disease cases in the United States, according to the World Health Organization.
The rise in religious science has caused some academics and leaders in the field to question whether their field has done enough to promote science-based practice and knowledge.
“In order to really address this crisis, we need to look at what is happening to the science and the practice,” said Rev. Ronald Brown, a retired professor of the Christian Theological Seminary and author of the book, “Religion and the Politics of Health Care.”
In the United Kingdom, the Church of England is the only national denomination that has banned the use of the term “science” in its public policy documents, according the Church’s policy on religious studies.
The United States has a separate policy, the United Methodist Church, but not all denominations have policies that allow the use the word.
“You are not allowed to say science in the public sector,” said Michael H. Korsgaard, a professor of health sciences and religion at Harvard University and the author of “The Power of Science in Medicine.”
“You can’t have a science-oriented, public health approach, but you can have a health care-oriented approach, and that’s what you’re doing.”
Korsgaard said many physicians have taken to using the term in the private sector and in some public health programs to describe their work.
In Texas, where the first confirmed Ebola patient was treated in a public health facility, Stokes is worried about the consequences.
“There are no clear rules about what constitutes science, so this could lead to a big problem,” he said.
“This is about getting the message out there to patients that we’re serious about health care, that we don’t believe in the concept of science being a religion.”
The push for science-informed medicine has been especially evident in Texas.
The state recently launched its own “science and science education” curriculum, with a focus on the health of the communities where it is located.
“If you look at the number one challenge in health system is a lack of transparency, and there is no transparency about what we’re doing and what we know, it becomes very easy to get distracted,” said Brown.
“So I think it is imperative that people understand the impact of these decisions and be aware of the consequences.”
Stokes is not the only one to worry about the impact on religious education.
“Science is not only important for medicine, it’s important for other fields of science, and it’s even more important for religious studies,” said the Rev. David W. Brown, an associate professor of religious studies at Trinity College in New York.
“So when we see these new medical sciences, we should be able to draw the right lessons from them.”
According to Brown, religious studies should not be used to promote particular beliefs or practices, but should instead be used as a tool for understanding how the world is organized.
“The way we talk about the world and the way we think about it is important,” he added.
“It is a way to really understand how people think about the things they are thinking about.”