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Spiritual Care

On Launching Brandeis’s Chaplaincy Innovation Lab

Spiritual care is the process of supporting and enabling people to articulate their values in difficult situations. This involves helping them make the decisions and take the next steps that are right for them, based on their values and morals. Sometimes these values have a religious basis, and sometimes they do not. Almost always, spiritual care providers or chaplains accompany people in difficult situations and support them through these processes.

We are very excited to launch the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab (CIL) at Brandeis, an undertaking that’s been in the works for many months. With support from the Henry Luce Foundation, BTS Center, FISH, and others, the Lab is now ready to engage the communities that stand to benefit the most from research in spiritual care, enhanced training and education, and networking news, information, and other resources to build up the profession of chaplaincy.

We have been working for the past several years to improve the ways healthcare chaplains are trained. We saw that there are chaplains in a broad range of places, including places they didn’t used to be, and that the people in theological schools and clinical settings that do the training were not always in good conversation with the social scientific research that might support them.

We were also aware of growing numbers of people in the United States who are not involved with congregations, and the growing presence of chaplains at sites of trauma: shootings, natural disasters, etc. We wondered if chaplains were doing the work local clergy used to do and if they had the support they needed to do it. We started the Lab to bring together all of the people—chaplains, theological educators, clinical educators, social scientists—working around chaplaincy to see if we can together understand what is happening and develop creative ways to support chaplains as they support those who are most vulnerable. The full case statement is here.

Our CIL hosts educational webinars for chaplains, helps social scientists studying chaplaincy work better with one another and translate their research into practice, connects theological educators who are teaching about chaplaincy at about one-quarter of theological schools begin to talk with one another in a systematic way, enables people curious about chaplaincy as a profession to learn about it and find ways to be mentored, and connects funders interested in supporting teaching and training for chaplains with the people doing the research and education,

Swarthmore College changed my life and made my entire career possible. I can not put into words my gratitude. I was a double major in religion and sociology & anthropology. Early classes in the religion department led me to wonder about how religion matters to people, not when they are in religious organizations, but out in the world: in their daily lives. I knew nothing about academic careers when I arrived on campus and support from faculty (Joy Charlton, Don Swearer, Ellen Ross, and Steve Hopkins) enabled me to see that that might be where my passions lie. My research has asked related questions over time: about Buddhism in America, about religion in healthcare organizations, and now about how chaplains as religious professions work as such in a range of usually non-religious organizations. I care deeply about my research not sitting on a dusty library shelf, but having an impact in the lives of people on the ground. This project is an effort to support that impact.

I think we all have faith in something—our family, our friends, maybe just our own abilities to get through the world. Words like faith and religion are just one way to think about how we find and creating meaning in our own lives and in the world. I think we need to open this conversation up to be about meaning where religion in any traditional sense is just one answer among many.

We remain inspired by the possibility that our work will help improve the lives of people who are suffering through the support chaplains provide.

—Wendy Cadge ’97 is founder and Michael Skaggs is executive director of the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab at Brandeis.