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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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Chapter 1 A Socio-Historical Review of Mental Illness in Irish Society


and a Sociological View of Mental Health and Illness The Protestant Ethos and the “Lunatic Poor” What do we mean by the term “ethos”? As it is known to be a highly inde- terminate and f luid concept (see Coen 2008), it is important to clarify how this term is understood and used. The word “ethos”, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (2008), is defined as “the characteristic spirit, prevalent tone of sentiment of a people or community; the ‘genius’ of an institution or system”.1 Miller (1974: 309) shows how it stems from the Greek word “etho” which means “to be accustomed to”. Yet other definitions illustrate how the term “ethos” incor- porates more of a moral conceptualisation. Both the English Dictionary (1998: 155) and Merriam-Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (1980: 389) define ethos as “the distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature or guiding beliefs of a person, group, or institution”. The term is also consid- ered to be the root word of “ethics”. This could be attributed to its Greek origin, and particularly its Aristotelian roots. In The Ethics of Aristotle: The Nicomachean Ethics (1976), we can see that Aristotle expands on his complex understanding of the term “ethics” as that of a virtue and moral character. The book (1976: 368) also of fers two definitions for “ethos”, one meaning “habit” and the other “character”. This book’s approach to defining “ethos” would lean more in the direction of “character” or “habit”, as well 1 This definition was acquired from . 16...

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