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Religious Faith and Spirituality


Religious faith involves a personal commitment to a particular worldview including a reference to a transcendent power or being. This faith is always connected to a religion, although not necessarily to an institution. Spirituality is a way of life that integrates an understanding of meaning with day-to-day living. This spirituality may or may not be connected to any particular religion and does not necessarily even have to involve a conception of God.

In the North American and European context, many people with AIDS (PWAs) have been gay men. Often condemned or rejected by institutional religions, many gay PWAs who are religious believers have dropped their institutional involvements in favor of a religious faith outside a particular religious institution. Spirituality is integral to some people with HIV/AIDS who are not religious. Whether religious or not, spirituality involves finding and integrating value and meaning into one's own life.

Upon diagnosis with AIDS, some PWAs return to or place a renewed emphasis upon the religious practice and faith that they may have abandoned earlier on in their lives. Some clergy of various religions foster a mature and healthy religious faith to which these PWAs can return. Religion then becomes for PWAs a way to a peace that eliminates much stress and negativity. The various religious ceremonies or rites as well as practices of both vocal and meditative prayer become helpful tools in their life journey with AIDS. Others who have come from a deeply fundamentalist or rigid religious practice may return to such a faith and accept the negative judgment of that particular community as being deserved. This may or may not be helpful to the PWA. However, a belief in a benevolent, compassionate transcendent power can and often does enhance the life of a PWA.

Realizing a connection between him- or herself and a higher power may enable the PWA to understand the impasse that AIDS has produced as a door to a new way of living. This lifestyle, or spirituality, may move a PWA to serve others. Whatever their religious connection or spirituality, some PWAs find healing and positive dimensions in enabling others to live life more fully. Thus, their activism, which may include being volunteers in AIDS education, encouraging others who are newly diagnosed or having difficulties, or creating things of beauty for others, becomes an authentic expression of their spirituality. This activism also has a healing role to play in their own lives.

Those who are partners of PWAs find their own spirituality intimately involved with those of their lovers. Whether HIV-seropositive or not, partners also live through feelings of despair and finally need to resolve to actively surrender. They face different elements of impasse such as alienation, rejection by their partner's family, fear, emotional paralysis, perhaps a need for new values, and, ultimately, the process of loss and grief. However, the characteristics of religious faith and spirituality noted above remain for them as well.

Related Entries:

Buddhism; Catholic Church; Christian Denominations, Smaller; Hinduism; Islam; Judaism; Ministries; Protestant Churches

Key Words:

belief, faith, religion, spirituality, [individual religions by name]

Further Reading

Bonneau, N., et al., AIDS and Faith, Ottawa, Ontario: Novalis, 1993

Hardy, R. P., Knowing the God of Compassion: Spirituality and Persons Living with AIDS, Ottawa, Ontario: Novalis, 1993

Helminiak, D. A., "Non-Religious Lesbians and Gays Facing AIDS: A Fully Psychological Approach to Spirituality," Pastoral Psychology 43 (1995), pp. 301-318

Melton, R. G., and W. Garcia, Beyond AIDS: A Journey into Healing, Beverly Hills, California: Brotherhood, 1988

Mikluscak-Cooper, C., and E. E. Miller, Living in Hope: A 12-Step Approach for Persons at Risk or Infected with HIV, Berkeley, California: Celestial Arts, 1991

Todd, P. B., AIDS, A Pilgrimage to Healing: A Guide for Health Professionals, Clergy, and Educators, Newtown, Wales: Millennium, 1991

The Encyclopedia of AIDS: A Social, Political, Cultural, and Scientific Record of the HIV Epidemic, Raymond A. Smith, Editor. Copyright © 1998, Raymond A. Smith. Carried by permission of Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers.

Encyclopedia of AIDS $25 US/832 pp/Illustrated

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It is a part of the publication The Encyclopedia of AIDS.