Dissertation | “How Connected is This Heart?”: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Women of Color with Heart Disease

Religion/spirituality may be as complex a characteristic as race, culture, age, sexuality, gender, or socioeconomic status. Yet, religion/spirituality is not frequently included in sociological analysis with these other factors. For Women of Color who are dealing with chronic conditions, such as heart disease, religion/spirituality is both a health resource and an important facet of daily life. Since nearly one in five female deaths in the US is caused by heart disease, it is important to understand how Women of Color cope with their illness using religious/spiritual resources (CDC 2020). In this dissertation, I used an interpretive phenomenological research design to develop an initial understanding of how religion/spirituality and illness experience shaped one another and changed over time. In multiple in-depth interviews, 13 Women of Color with heart disease and I explored together how their religion/spirituality and illness experience shaped one another and changed over time. I interpreted whole cases to develop a detailed description of how religion/spirituality was embedded in the lived experiences of Women of Color with heart disease and changed as they encountered turning points in their lives, ranging from health crises to progression in their illness trajectory. This interpretation revealed three patterns of being related to how the connection between religion/spirituality and health changed during participants’ lives: relational change, intersectional change, and receptivity to change. (1) Relational Change: Religious/spiritual relationships connected to women’s sense of self, God/Higher Power, families, congregations, and faith groups changed as they aged and responded to health crises. (2) Intersectional Change: Religion/spirituality’s influence on health was negotiated within the shifting rhythms of access to health care, gendered racism, and other burdens connected to marginalization. (3) Receptivity to Change: Women were receptive to offers of support, interventions, and new ideas related to the relationship between their religion/spirituality and their health. These three patterns hold implications for the fields of sociology, medicine, and religion, including potential interventions and future investigations to support Women of Color who deal with heart disease. Also, this research began approximately one year into the 2020 US COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, my research findings also shine a light on the ways in which the pandemic disrupted the religious/spiritual and care practices of Women of Color with heart disease. These findings suggest that the bidirectional relationship between religion/spirituality and health in the lives of Women of Color with chronic conditions is transported to their health care and may be used as a coping resource when other resources have been exhausted. Dimensions of Women of Color’s religion/spirituality and health are best addressed by understanding their lived experiences on women’s own terms.

Full-text Link: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/6sf257ps

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