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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 5 GROW: A Brotherly Institution


This book has traced the ef fects of religion and mental illness in Irish society from an institutional (macro) to a personal belief (micro) level, as well as from the objective (collective) reality to the subjective (individual) reality. Its ultimate concern has been to understand how certain Catholic orientated ideas and activities assist those with mental health problems, especially in terms of their brotherly ability to promote social inclusion and, conceivably, personal empowerment. Combining Weberian, Foucauldian, and Gof fmanian theoretical strands from the sociology of religion as well as the sociology of health and illness, this final chapter aims to analytically expand on religious or sacred coping mechanisms.1 The GROW Ritual In regard to roles at GROW meetings, a member is expected to express their own problems while also assisting others. Nearly every person interviewed had expressed that helping others in a caring and supportive atmosphere made them feel good about themselves. In this sense one can already see evidence of what could be a brotherly attitude functioning in GROW, at least in terms of reciprocation. Considering the revolving role of group leader at GROW meetings, in collaboration with Henry’s synopsis of the double role that members play, we could view this set-up as a type of rotating 1 I align with Demerath’s (1999) proposal to expand the concept of the sacred and explore Besecke’s (2005) third dimension of religion, i.e. the collective/cultural. 206 Chapter 5 “doctor” role. Williams (2001) point out a “lay-take back” process wherein the role of...

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