Seed Grants

The Religion and Public Health Collaborative is committed to increasing knowledge at the intersection of religion and health and encourages ongoing research among students and scholars across throughout Emory University. The RPHC has supported interdisciplinary research projects on the following topics:


Examining Spirituality and Sexuality: Understanding HIV/STD-Related Disparities and Determinants Among African American Young Adults


The purpose of this pilot study is to: (1) identify social and religious determinants of sexual/reproductive health to better understand existing disparities in HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among African American (AA) young adult females and (2) pilot test the complementary and integrative use of various methodology, data collection and analysis modalities in this population. This study is guided by Family Theory and Social Learning Theory, which explains human behavior in terms of interaction between cognitive, behavioral, social (family/peer) and environmental influences. The proposed methods are innovative, complementary and suitable to address the purpose and aims of the study within the target population. We will use retrospective and cross-sectional methods and life course and social network perspectives to examine: (1) connections in families and social networks and the patterns of religious and sexual decision-making and behavior; (2) the history of religious behavior and sexual decision making and behavior over time; (3) associations between religious, psychosocial and sexual factors among individuals, families and social networks; (4) the interactions of age, time period and family/network cohort on behaviors (religious, sexual decision making, sexual behavior) of families, social networks and individuals and (5) the influence of religious and social networks on sexual decision making and behaviors. To accomplish this we will recruit a non-random sample of approximately 200 African American adult females and adolescents from three predominantly African American churches in the metro-Atlanta area who have expressed interest in and enthusiasm about participating and partnering with us on this project. We will recruit 100 adolescent-parent/guardian dyads. To be eligible participants will: (1) be between the ages of 15-65; (2) be female; (3) have an adolescent/young adult (15-24) and a (grand) parent/guardian willing to both consent/participate; (4) identify as Black or AA and (5) attend a church where recruitment will occur. We will collect data using computerized questionnaires (i.e.Social Network Structure questionnaire), event history calendars and open-ended questions. Members of each dyad will complete parent or adolescent versions of the same questionnaires (Ex: Problem- Oriented Screening Instrument (POSI); adolescents will complete the POSI-T scale and parents will complete the POSI-P scale, which is the parent version of the POSIT. Cross-sectional data will be collected and parents and young adults will also provide retrospective data regarding their sexual and religious/spiritual histories using event history calendars. Data analysis will be conducted by Senior Biostatistician, Dr. Melinda Higgins, in collaboration with Dr. Dalmida using descriptive statistics, non-parametric statistics, regression, event history, cohort and social network analyses. Throughout the project, the research team from Emory will collaborate with community and church members and peer, community and church leaders to discuss the study questions, methods, and outcomes.


Evaluating Cognitive-Based Compassion Training for Children in an Educational Setting


The present study is intended to contribute to research in developmental psychology, religious studies, and public health by evaluating the effects of cognitive-based compassion training (CBCT) for children at the Paideia school among children aged 5 to 8 using a range of measures related to empathy, prosocial behavior, and stereotype and bias. A team has been assembled that includes researchers experienced in developmental psychology with particular expertise in empathy and prosociality (Dr. Philippe Rochat and his doctoral student, Erin Robbins) as well as in the Tibetan traditions that form the basis of CBCT (Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi) and in the scientific study of contemplative practices and their use as health interventions (Charles Raison, Brooke Dodson-Lavelle and Brendan Ozawa-de Silva). Building off of previous studies of CBCT at Emory with undergraduate, adult, and foster-children populations, this study employs a range of established measures at four time points before and after the delivery of the CBCT for Children program at the Paideia School to assess whether CBCT for Children can aid the development of prosocial skills and behaviors and the amelioration of negative stereotype and bias, with the potential for significant findings related to the capacity to enhance the emotional and physical health of children. The study has the full support of the Paideia School.


In the Eyes of Others: Youth, Suicide, and Meaning in Contemporary Japan and America


Suicide prevention policies are fairly new in Japan, and are based heavily on the WHO’s model, which focuses on the prevention and treatment of depression and does not address other forms of suffering and subjective experience related to suicidality. Despite the growth of a literature on factors contributing to positive mental health, such as meaning-making and a sense of affiliation (Keyes 2005, 2007, n.d.; Kabat-Zinn 1990; Kleinman 1989, 2006; Ozawa-de Silva ) and their importance in predicting and preventing suicide, current suicide prevention policies in Japan remain narrow in their focus and lack attention to these factors. There is therefore a strong need to investigate the underlying processes contributing to and inhibiting suicide through humanistic and social scientific research, and to situate this investigation in cross-cultural analyses. Furthermore, there is a pressing need to examine whether therapeutic interventions exist that can strengthen salutary processes conducive to positive mental health in individuals, thereby reducing the risk of suicide. To date, this has not been rigorously explored.Recent research suggests that the presence of positive mental health (sometimes called “flourishing”) may be even more important than the presence of current mental illness in predicting and preventing suicides. This study assembles an interdisciplinary team from anthropology (Ozawa-de Silva), sociology (Keyes) and nursing (Bauer-Wu) and employs combined ethnographic and quantitative measures of mental health to assess whether Japanese psychotherapeutic practices that arose out of Buddhist religious practices may be effective tools in fostering mental health and thereby contributing to the prevention of suicide and mental illness.

Researchers: Chikako Ozawa-de Silva, PhD, Anthropology; Corey Keyes, PhD, Sociology; Susan Bauer-Wu, PhD, Nursing


Religious Guidance and Care Regarding Genomic Testing


Genetic testing the the U.S. is rapidly expanding. Factors leading to this expansion include an increase in older women desiring pregnancy, expansion of prenatal testing to younger women, expanded state mandated newborn screening, and the availability of genome-wide scans via a direct to consumer genetic testing model. While genetic counseling is provided in many of these situations, the decision to test and reactions to the test results may raise ethical and religious issues that genetic counselors may not be fully prepared to address. Clergy and leaders of religious communities may be increasingly called on to provide support and counsel to members facing difficult ethical, psychological, and spiritual issues related to genomic testing. This research aims to measure the current level of knowledge that clergy possess regarding genetic and reproductive technologies and determine the frequency with which clergy report providing care, counsel, and guidance regarding these issues.

Researchers: Andrew Faucett, School of Medicine; Karen Scheib, Candler School of Theology; Zhou Yang, Rollins School of Public Health; Kathy Kinlaw, Center for Ethics


Contemplative Practices and Early-Stage Dementia


This study proposes to examine the feasibility and acceptability and trends in outcomes of training of persons with dementing disorders and their loved ones in contemplative practices. The project proposes to employ two meditation techniques–mindfulness and compassion–to structure interventions for persons with early-stage dementia and their family caregivers. The interventions are intended to promote positive personal and relational outcomes in the everyday lives of these dyads undergoing a prolonged and wrenching change in their lives. There have been no published efforts that focus therapeutic activities on issues of connectedness or personhood using mindfulness or compassion practices in this clinical population. Using mixed qualitative and quantitative research methods, this innovative exploratory project will enable us to begin to address questions concerning the use and efficacy of contemplative practice for persons with early-stage dementia and their family caregivers.

Researchers: Susan Bauer-Wu and Kenneth Hepburn, School of Nursing; Lobsang Tenzin Negi and Barbara Patterson, Dept. of Religion; James Lah, School of Medicine; Amishi Jha, University of Pennsylvania


EMPTE Meditation Scale


Data from contemplative science research suggests that meditation-based interventions can have demonstrable effects in stress, depression and inflammation–risk factors for a host of chronic disorders that plague the 21st century. Despite these promising results, methodological issues, including a lack of assessment tools that accurately asses meditation experience, greatly limit the reliability and generalizability of these findings. In order to address this shortcoming, our team has set out to develop and assess the validity of the EMPTE Scale, a self-report measure which will assess research participants’ meditation experience in a particular contemplative tradition. This scale, which relies primarily on common Buddhist-based contemplative practices that are commonly, will help researchers more clearly define subjects’ style of practice, control for variations between style and experience, and ultimately lead to new findings associated with particular styles of practice. The successful development of this scale promises to enhance the methodological rigor of this field by aiding researchers in determining what subjects are actually doing during a particular meditation session, and also by enabling clinicians and researchers to develop appropriate meditation-based interventions for specific populations.

Researchers: John D. Dunne and Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, Dept. of Religion; Charles L. Raison, Dept. of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences; Nancy Thompson, Rollins School of Public Health


RHAs in Safe Water Projects in Haiti

You expect the water from your tap, or even from a well, to be safe, but in Haiti water can make you sick. These researchers hope to help US donor agencies make wise investments and to improve the health of rural Haitians by assessing the contribution of religious entities to safe water projects, such as adding chlorine. Graduate students Michael Ritter and Gretchen VanEss will work in Haiti this summer with Professor Erskine, who has written extensively about Caribbean theology and churches. The team will develop a best practice model for replicating a pilot project being implemented by a Kentucky faith-based organization, Missions of Love. Their health goal is to reduce the occurrence of diarrhea, the leading cause of death among children under age five. The researchers also anticipate that the data they collect will improve knowledge-sharing among public health organizations, Haitian churches and communities, and donor agencies. Christine Moe, Director of the Center for Global Safe Water RSPH, says she anticipates new donors as a result of the project.

Researchers: Deborah McFarland, PhD, Eugene Gangarossa, PhD, and Michael Ritter, MPH, Rollins School of Public Health, Noel Erskine, PhD, and Gretchen VanEss, MDiv, MPH Candler School of Theology


Spirituality, Social Capital, and Maternal-Infant Outcomes in Latinas

Mexican Americans have such successful birth outcomes, despite low socioeconomic status and poor health care, that they compare favorably with non-Hispanic whites. The effect is known as the “Latino Paradox.” This Emory research team will study some 225 Latinas in metro-Atlanta, working with El Centro Internacional de Maternidad (five clinics) and El Centro Medico de la Mama (two clinics). Both qualitative and quantitative methods will be used to examine the effect of spirituality/religiosity and social capital on birth outcomes. Further, a culturally-specific psychosocial intervention which includes aspects of spirituality– such as meaning-making–will be created so that Latina mothers (and eventually other ethnic groups) can prevent obstetric problems by taking advantage of spiritual and psychosocial resources. Marla Salmon, dean of SON, applauded the researchers for addressing priority health issues regarding maternal and newborn survival.

Researchers: Safiya George Dalmida and Bethany Robertson, Woodruff School of Nursing; Maria Carrion, Emory College Department of Spanish and Portuguese; Winifred Thompson, Rollins School of Public Health; Noel Erskine, Candler School of Theology