Spiritual care: challenges in a multicultural and multireligious society

Piret Paal researcher at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, explains the key points discussed at a recent German-speaking conference on multireligious spirituality and multiprofessional spiritual care

Piret Paal

Piret Paal

Last year, I gave a course on cultural sensitivity in health care for future social workers. The main theme of this seminar was to clarify the meaning of cultural and religious diversity in today’s society, having in mind that Germany is in third place in accommodating international migrants worldwide. In their final essays tackling the relevance of culture one of the students concluded: “As long as Germany hosts different cultures within its borders the topic of cultural sensitivity will remain relevant.” Was the student honestly suggesting that when we get rid of foreigners the cultural and religious issues have no relevance anymore? Quite obviously my main message regarding the already existing diversity within the general population, and avoiding the trap of making generalisations based on cultural or religious backgrounds, had not sunk in. However, despite my being disappointed, this student had made an excellent point – facing the challenges of a multicultural and multireligious society is and will remain relevant, and thus, must be discussed.  

In 2011, the International Society for Health and Spirituality (IGGS) was founded primarily to develop an understanding of spirituality and spiritual care among healthcare professionals in German-speaking countries.

The 2013 annual conference was dedicated to multireligious spirituality with special emphasis on the challenges of a multicultural and multireligious society. The keynote speakers at the conference were Prof Tomáš Halík (Prag) and Prof Alexander-Kenneth Nagel (Ruhr-Universität Bochum). Prof Halík lectured about the understanding of spirituality as the basic dimension of religiosity within a Catholic framework. Prof Nagel demonstrated the impact of migration on spirituality discourse by showing powerful visual images about different religious groups living side by side and sharing religious spaces within a range of institutional and social settings. Additionally, seven workshops tackling issues about spirituality and spiritual care as a professional assignment were provided.

Despite political and legislative differences in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, all three countries face growing religious diversity due to migration. When it comes to meeting religious, spiritual and existential needs of a patient, the increasing diversity brings forth the question of professional competencies and responsibility.

Today, many religious spaces in healthcare institutions are redecorated in the spirit of a multireligious faith and thus make visible the societal change towards religious diversity. Accordingly, chaplains as traditional providers of spiritual care in care facilities are forced to reconsider their professional role, as well as their position in general. The discussion revealed that the strong implication of applying spiritual care in medicine adds to the growing tension within pastoral care. Above all, chaplains seek for an assurance that the implementation of spiritual care is not an attempt to make the pastoral care vanish.

On the contrary, spiritual care aims to improve the approach of medicine by putting the spiritual needs of a patient at the centre of comprehensive care. This statement brought up another fundamental question; namely, how to educate and prepare working professionals and undergraduates to provide accomplished spiritual care? Open-mindedness and self-awareness combined with sufficient self-care are the key terms in approaching individual spirituality and providing sensitive spiritual care. Discussants pointed out that the spiritual care skills in palliative care might not coincide with skills in psychotherapy or intensive care. As a result, intensive collaboration on generating training programmes and curricula for different disciplines and professional settings with carefully designed goals emerged as one of the top priorities.

The conference made clear that talking about the needs of specific religious groups is unavoidable to understand the spiritual or existential expectations that rely on religious traditions. Nevertheless, becoming aware of the diversity beyond any kind of group-based approaches is a challenge that everyone dealing with spiritual issues should be thoughtfully prepared for.

Find out more…

This entry was posted in EDUCATION & TRAINING, NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL REPORTS, SPIRITUAL CARE and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Spiritual care: challenges in a multicultural and multireligious society

  1. Pingback: Spiritual care: challenges in a multicultural and multireligious society | EAPC Blog | All Things Palliative - Article Feed

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