The Iona Institute recently released a report by Prof Patricia Casey which points to the postive personal and social benefits of religious practice.


Click on link to download full report – ‘The psycho-social benefits of religious practise’

This 40 page report includes forewords by Archbishop Diarmaid Martin and Bishop Ken Good (CoI Bishop of Derry and Raphoe).

Executive summary

By Professor Patricia Casey

THE POSITIVE link between religious practise and personal and societal well-being is of increasing interest to researchers. This link is increasingly being reported by the media. For example, the cover story of the Time magazine issue of February 23, 2009 was entitled, How faith can heal’.

The growing body of evidence testifying to a correlative, or even a causative relationship between religious practise and well-being has led to a re-evaluation on the part of some psychiatrists of the proper role of religion in patient care. For example, it is increasingly argued that if a patient is religious this should be taken into account by his or her psychiatrist and it should be seen as a potentially positive force in his or her life that has a role to play in the healing process. At the very least, it is contrary to the evidence not to take it into account, and it is worse to simply dismiss it.

But if religious practise has strong personal benefits, then it obviously has societal benefits as well. If religion is practised by a large number of people across a population, then its benefits will accrue to society as a whole. This is an important message at a time when religion is often criticised as a socially divisive force which is mainly repressive and authoritarian in its effects. Religion can be this, especially when it is imposed. But when it is accepted and lived out voluntarily, the contrary is much more likely to be the case. This message deserves to be more widely known.

The following is a summary of the ways in which religious practise can benefit individual believers and society. The summary will touch on only a representative sample of the studies listed in this report.

Religious practise reduces the risk of suicide

In one study, 584 suicide victims and 4,279 deaths from natural causes were compared. After adjusting for age, sex, race, marital status and frequency of social contact, the odds of never having participated in religious activities was significantly greater among the suicide victims. In other words, religious practise reduces the chances of a person committing suicide.

Religious practise reduces the risk of depression

A large Canadian study involving 70,000 adults found that those who attended Church services regularly had fewer depressive symptoms than average. Interestingly, those who described themselves as spiritual’, rather than religious’, had more depressive symptoms. Both effects were true regardless of age, sex and other variables.

Religious practise helps cope with bereavement effects

One recent study examined 135 relatives and close friends of those who died in a palliative care centre at one, nine and 14 months after a bereavement. People with no spiritual beliefs did not resolve their grief over the period of the study, those with strong beliefs did so progressively, and those with low levels of belief showed no change for the first nine months, but they began to resolve their grief after that point.

Religious practise, risk-taking and sexual behaviour among teenagers

One major study involving over 2,000 young people aged between 11-18 showed church attendance and involvement in a church-based youth group reduced risk-taking behaviours such as smoking, alcohol use, marijuana use, truancy and depression, even when controlling for confounders such as socio-economic status and self-esteem.

Regarding sexual activity, church attendance and youth involvement reduced sexual activity. Furthermore, the risk-taking behaviour that often occurs in early adulthood was less marked in the religious cohort. Self-esteem was also higher among those attending church.

A survey of 1,100 American adults aged over 18 found that those who were religious had a lower number of sexual partners than those who were not.

Religious practise adds to life expectancy

A meta-analysis of all studies relating to religious involvement and longevity was carried out in the year 2000. A total of 126,000 people were involved. It found that active religious involvement increased the chances of living longer than the average by 29%, and participation in public religious practises, such as church attendance, increased the chance of living longer by 43%.

Marriage and religious practise

The greatest amount of marital stability is found among couples who practise the same religion. Marriages in which neither spouse is religious are the least stable. Marriages between couples who practise different religions, or where one is religious and the other is not, fall in between these two poles. Marital stability among religious believers is explained partly by religious injunctions against divorce, but it also may be explained by the fact that religious believers attach less importance to personal autonomy and more importance to commitment.

Prayer and patient recovery

Anumber of studies have been conducted to test the effect of prayer on patient recovery. These have compared groups of patients who were being prayed for, but didn’t know it, and another group who were not being prayed for. None of the patients knew they were part of these studies.

Measures such as mortality, duration of fever and length of stay in hospital were shorter in the prayer group than in the non-prayer group.

However, these studies are not conclusive. They only indicate that there may be some positive effect from prayer because other studies, for example involving cardiac patients, have shown no effect.

The Iona Institute

source –

The Iona Institute is a non-governmental organisation dedicated to the strengthening of civil society.

It aims to contribute to this purpose in two primary ways. The first is through making the case for marriage, and the second is through making the case for religion.

The core belief of the Iona Institute is that Ireland cannot have a strong, vigorous civil society unless it recognises the importance of marriage and supports it socially, financially and legally, and furthermore unless it recognises the importance of religious practice.

A weakened civil society will inevitably experience a number of very serious social ills including rising crime, rising drug and alcohol abuse, a rising suicide rate, and a decline in community, including family breakdown. Ireland is currently experiencing all of these problems, to the point where they now concern a majority of people. .

However, it is also the belief of the Iona Institute that society will not recognise the importance of marriage and religion unless a convincing, evidence-based case, is made for them. The Iona Institute is dedicated to making this case thereby adding an important voice to Irish public debate.

It aims to do so through the commissioning of relevant position papers by experts in their fields including social scientists, lawyers and psychiatrists, through the formulation of workable policies, especially in the area of marriage and the family, through sponsoring research and opinion polling, and through organising seminars on relevant topics.

The Director of the Iona Institute is David Quinn, who is one of Ireland’s best known religious and social affairs commentators.

While the Institute will draw on Catholic social thinking, a great deal of its work will appeal to Christians of all denominations.

It will also appeal to anyone who believes that a well-functioning civil society needs strong families and who believe that religion has a vital contribution to make to both civil society and family life.