Does Religion Help You Heal?

March 2, 2020

Does religion help you heal when you’re in an unstable mental state? Many people have a belief system, whether that be in the form of organised religion or not. Some of us may just be spiritual people generally and some may believe in Mother Nature and send their prayers to Mother Earth.

Religion appeared centuries ago – the ancient man had different forms of worship: the sun, the moon, or a higher hidden force named God or Allah. Today, there are various religions and rather than religion becoming less popular, it is in fact growing. More than 80% of the world’s population is part of a religious groups and “members of this demographic are generally younger and produce more children than those who have no religious affiliation, so the world is getting more religious, not less”. Although each has different beliefs, many of their characteristics and morals are similar.

Freedom of Religion

Children and adults have the freedom to choose and practice their religion. This right is protected by Article 9 of the humans rights act: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”

The 1999 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child also defends religious freedom in Article 9. Freedom of thought and religion, for both children and adults, are protected by Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which applies to the 47 countries forming the Council of Europe.

The European Court of Human Rights may hold to account a country that does not abide by this. Religious freedom is important, not only because it is part of the broader structure of human rights globally, but because it promotes a positive force in many people’s lives.

Research conducted by the Pew Research Centre found that “people who are highly religious are more engaged with their extended families, more likely to volunteer, more involved in their communities and generally happier with the way things are going in their lives”.

Protecting this kind of activity through freedom of religion laws is therefore important in any society as it is show to be associated with positive outcomes.

religion help you heal

Mental Health and Religion

For most, believing in a religion is the belief in a hidden power to return to at all times, whether good or bad.

Having that comfort and hope to return to plays a vital part in a human’s mental state.

Religions are a constant that make a chaotic life more comfortable and bearable. It also helps in self-settling and assists in the reconstruction of the misplaced refugees. Research has indicated that practicing a religion can reduce the chances of alcoholism, anxiety and suicide.

The research conducted by Pew further supports this through the finding that 40% of highly religious US adults would consider themselves to be “very happy”, as compared with just 29% of those who are less religious.

Religion in Displacement

In a study on religious diversity and practice in refugee camps, it has been concluded that the practice of religion is not actively supported or accepted.

This is evident through the lack of facilities made available, such as a prayer room; or a collective ritual exercise, such as a group prayer. However, in some camps, Muslim dietary rules are acknowledged such as the prohibition of pork. In many camps, Christmas is regarded as a cultural heritage rather than a religious celebration. Therefore, many camps put up a Christmas tree and participate by giving presents to refugee children.

Stories shared with Kat Eghdamian during her research in Jordan illustrate why religion matters in the context of displacement and suggest why it is overlooked or misunderstood by actors supporting those in displacement. One of the reasons is the rise of global Islamic terrorism.

To date, religion has often been viewed in one of three ways:

  1. Religion as a potential resource to be operationalised in humanitarian service delivery (the instrumentalisation of religion);
  2. Religion as a source of conflict among and between groups (religion as divisive identity politics); or
  3. Religion as an unimportant feature of displacement (religion as pertaining only to the private sphere).

Although different aspects of the above may be true in some cases, it is not an extensive account of the multiple ways in which religion plays a role in humanitarianism in general, or displacement specifically. To support the previous statement, research by Kat Eghdamian on Syrian refugees from religious minority groups has demonstrated that the non-instrumental roles of religion (e.g. religious ethics and motivations) and the numerous constructive ways in which religious values and religiously-motivated practice shape and inform displacement experiences, are yet to be fully investigated.

The agencies responsible for providing humanitarian relief and facilitating camps for refugees are not fulfilling the rights of refugees if they are not enabling them to engage in their religious practices. The severity of a refugee’s circumstances, the trauma they may have experienced and the contrast of their new life to their old one can be overwhelming – allowing these individuals to maintain a connection with their religion could be a useful to preserve their dignity, identity and mental health.

Written by Reham Al-Eryani

Learning & Development Administrator