Religion, spirituality, health and medicine: Why should Indian physicians care?
KeywordsReligion, spirituality, dharma, Hinduism, health, medicine, medical ethics, western medicine, Ayurveda, complementary and alternative medicine
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AbstractReligion, spirituality, health and medicine have common roots in the conceptual framework of relationship amongst human beings, nature and God. Of late, there has been a surge in interest in understanding the interplay of religion, spirituality, health and medicine, both in popular and scientific literature. A number of published empirical studies suggest that religious involvement is associated with better outcomes in physical and mental health. Despite some methodological limitations, these studies do point towards a positive association between religious involvement and better health. When faced with disease, disability and death, many patients would like physicians to address their emotional and spiritual needs, as well. The renewed interest in the interaction of religion and spirituality with health and medicine has significant implications in the Indian context. Although religion is translated as dharma in major Indian languages, dharma and religion are etymologically different and dharma is closer to spirituality than religion as an organized institution. Religion and spirituality play important roles in the lives of millions of Indians and therefore, Indian physicians need to respectfully acknowledge religious issues and address the spiritual needs of their patients. Incorporating religion and spirituality into health and medicine may also go a long way in making the practice of medicine more holistic, ethical and compassionate. It may also offer new opportunities to learn more about Ayurveda and other traditional systems of medicine and have more enriched understanding and collaborative interaction between different systems of medicine. Indian physicians may also find religion and spirituality significant and fulfilling in their own lives.