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Secular Health and Sacred Belief?

A Study of Religion and Mental Illness in Modern Irish Society

Áine Lorié

Social exclusion is one of the most significant problems facing individuals with mental illness in contemporary Ireland. In the era of the growing secular medical-industrial complex and its alienating effects, it is important to strengthen confidence in mental health services that promote social inclusion, specifically for stigmatised groups. As mainstream facilities remain attached to a biomedical framework, religious outlets operating in the voluntary sector may serve as an alternative option.
This book examines religion’s therapeutic potential, concentrating on aspects of Catholicism as manifestations of Max Weber’s prosocial concept of ‘brotherliness’. This line of enquiry is approached both on a macro level, looking at institutional religion, and on a micro level, looking at personal beliefs. The author examines such issues as the power of the institutional church in disseminating collectively orientated ideas; the public response to mental illness in Ireland over the past two centuries; the tendency within the field of psychology to pathologise belief systems and instrumentalise religious coping; and processes of secularisation, socialisation and ritualisation, which can either assist in or hinder the subjective adaptation of religious ideas. The theoretical arguments are contextualised by in-depth interviews with members of the «peerled» mental health group GROW.


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This book would not have been made possible if it were not for the incred- ible participants and the coordinator from GROW, of which I am extremely grateful for their involvement in this project. Also, without the artful, pragmatic, and enthusiastic advice of my PhD advisor Dr Vesna Malešević, this study would still remain on the “conceptual shelf ” and would likely not have materialised. I would also like to thank my external examiner, Dr Erik Karlsaune at Department of Archaeology and Religious Studies in the Norwegian University of Science and Technology for his constructive, thoughtful, and encouraging review of my PhD thesis. I also owe a great deal to the terrific staf f in the School of Political Science and Sociology at the National University of Galway, especially Professor Chris Curtin, who was always approachable and insightful throughout the development of my thesis. I would also like to thank all my fellow post-graduate students in the School for their positive and informative nature. Even though in the end the research was conducted outside of the Health Executive Service (HSE), the staf f and volunteers in the mental health services in the chosen field site were also enormously helpful, and I am very appreciative for their guidance. Lastly, I would like to thank my family and friends for their continual mental, physical, and financial support of this book, especially my wonderful husband and son.

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