Templeton Wants to Cram Faith Back into Medicine

HealthCare Chaplaincy Network (HCCN) will host the first annual "Caring for the Human Spirit" conference at the New York Academy of Medicine next week on the John Templeton Foundation’s dime. The accompanying brochure encourages women and men of both the cloth and the lab coat to attend. 

Six Templeton-funded researchers will present their work. HCCN, which was also created with a $3 million Templeton Foundation grant, refers to the event as "the first large-scale effort to form an evidence base for spiritual care effectiveness in health care,” and predicts that this conference "will drive the research agenda for years to come." Seems like a safe assumption given the fact that a $2.5 billion foundation like Templeton is bankrolling the entire thing.

Templeton funded a small award for medical schools addressing issues of culture and spirituality in palliative care throughout much of the last decade. But $3 million is a lot, even for such a reliable sticker-shocker foundation as this one. The foundation gave HCCN more money in one shot than they have for medical research of all disciplines in total over the past decade.

Also surprising about this 2011 gift to HCCN is that Templeton gave a sum this large to a non-university affiliated grantee—a somewhat uncharacteristic move by a foundation that gives to universities almost exclusively. 

University of Chicago, for example, became the other major benefactor of Templeton's newfound interest in the spiritual dimension of medicine. While the HCCN grant seeks to empirically validate the idea that faith can assist the patient recovery process, the foundation gave U Chicago a comparable $2.5 million around the same time to conduct research on the benefits spiritual life affords physicians. The grant creates 4 positions each year for faculty scholars to spend 2-years doing research on this topic.

Templeton differentiates this program from the initiatives on which its designers modeled it: Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program and University of Chicago MacLean Center's faculty ethics program. According to the foundation's website, these predecessors permit "a broad, open-ended agenda," while Templeton instead encourages the scholars it funds to formulate and answer more specifically pointed questions. If you ever read something about how faith helps physicians deal with stress at work, for example, it's a good bet that one of these critters had a hand in the study.