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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 study has been driven by a theoretical mission to discover whether a brotherly orientated Catholic ethos might manifest in religious coping. Moreover, this book has examined elements of religious coping that empha- sise social inclusion for those with mental illness in the Irish context. The discovery of this ethos is wonderfully simplified by one of our participants: “maybe I went through this suf fering so that I can relate to and understand others, and so that my experience can help someone else along the way”. Such a statement is illustrative of a brotherly or allocentric attitude. Many other participants also stressed the importance of social inclusion when discussing personal belief. In the process, this type of messaging functions as a decisive motivation to assist one’s peers. In turn, such a neighbourly attitude rein- forces social inclusion within the structural and textual context of GROW, as well as perhaps independently and subjectively among GROW members socialised in Catholic social teachings. Of course the programme itself is impacted by a Catholic ethos that encourages a collectively orientated approach, likely due to its religious origins. GROW messaging thereby assists in complementing the concurring religious framework, especially for those reared a Catholic habitus. Central to this Catholic framework, in the context of Irish society, is a strong emphasis on the common good, which contrasts an idiocentric Protestant ethos. We might presume that this messaging is being systematically disseminated; hence its materialisa- tion within the agency response of those interviewed. Therefore we can see...

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