Why are Medicine and Religion Separate? Part 1: The Evolution of the Hospital
Tuesday February 27th 2018, 8:45 pm
Filed under: history of medicine and religion,hospitals,palliative care

By Michael Balboni

This is the first in a four-part series examining the social and historical forces that have led to the current divide between religion and medicine. Drawing on Peter Berger’s theory of plausibility structures (particular social processes that legitimize social beliefs and practices, giving them a matter-of-fact quality), this series will examine the driving factors behind the current state of spirituality in medicine. This post centers on the evolution of the hospital from the medieval period to the modern day, and how religion came to be of lessened importance in this setting.

Many modern American hospitals (especially in wealthy areas) are palatial and imposing, home to a wide variety of medical specialists and technologies. It can be intimidating to step into the imposing marble entryway of Dana-Farber’s Yawkey building or the labyrinth of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the hospitals where I work, especially when one is facing a potentially devastating diagnosis. Patients of faith may also notice that for all their technological marvels, modern hospitals offer little by way of spiritual support to help them navigate their experience of illness.

This wasn’t always the case. During the medieval period, hospitals were primarily affiliated with religious organizations, who sought to ensure the comfort of patients and support them as they entered into right relationship with God in their last days of life.