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Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health
Together for more healthy years
Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health
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Jochen Mierau about the opening of the Centre for Religion, Health and Wellbeing

Datum:30 november 2018
Kim Knibbe and Jochen Mierau
Kim Knibbe and Jochen Mierau

Written by Jochen Mierau, Scientific Director of the Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health.

From the perspective of the Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health I strongly encourage and support the development of centres such as the Centre for Religion, Health and Wellbeing. The first interdisciplinary step is often the one with the colleague in a different department of which you only recently found out that you have more in common with than you thought based on your encounters at the coffee machine.

The Centre for Religion, Health and Wellbeing enable departments to interact more than they currently do and encourage new lines of thought. Essentially, departments create depth and provide space for specialization whereas centers that span different departments enable us to use our knowledge to address societal goals. In a similar vein, collaboration between centers such as this one with other like-minded centers throughout and beyond the university allow us to provide a transdisciplinary and inter-sectoral dialogue on the challenges that lie before us – locally, regionally and globally. Within Aletta we can provide a common ground for all health related centers to strengthen each other in the ever present quest for funding and to design joint strategies for collaboration with societal partners. 

Religion and spirituality in their many facets have come to mean much more than the institutionalized vision of religion that many of us, including myself, have associated with religion. Indeed, one of the first times that Mladen Popovic and I discussed Aletta and this center he looked me in the eyes and said: “Don’t worry we do not come with a cross in our hands to proselytize.”

I was personally very inspired by the conversations that I had with Kim Knibbe, Anja Visser and Mladen Popovic about religious studies. As I have come to understand it, their approach to religious studies is one of understanding meaning. Meaning as a way to express what we cannot capture in words. Meaning as a way to motivate ourselves beyond monetary means. Meaning as a guide.

Jointly, religion, health and wellbeing have been a trinity for as long as we can imagine. From ancient times to now religious institutions have provided healthcare to all layers of society and have been especially strong in providing services to those at the fringes of society. Indeed, also today we can trace back the history of many of our current healthcare and nursing facilities to faith-based institutions. As such many religious scholars have also contributed significantly to the body of knowledge that we now trust upon to provide us with ever more healthy years.

The history of religion and health is not, however, a victory march. Too often have we seen, and still see, that religion or non-religion are used as a ground for prosecution, discrimination or worse. By fostering mutual understanding of each other’s hopes and dreams, I sincerely look forward to a reality in which we are our brother’s, and sister’s, keeper regardless of their religious stance.

Yet meaning maybe plays its most important role when we have come beyond what modern medicine can do for us. Indeed, for many in society religion and meaning provide the serenity to accept what we cannot change and the courage to change what we can. In times of trouble, religion can be an anchor to hold. Sometimes literally from a ruin, meaning can build up a community that has been decimated by perils beyond its own control. However, instead of wallowing in victimhood, meaning can provide the spark to build a better future. A future we believe in and a future that we aspire to. The Centre for Religion, Health and Wellbeing can contribute to that.