chapter  4
Religion and illness
ByRory Williams
Pages 21

There has long been a curious silence on the subject of religion in medical sociology, though it is beginning to be broken by new voices. It is not difficult to think of reasons for the silence. The rise of medical sociology in the 1960s occurred during a period of steep decline in churchgoing (Currie et al. 1977). The university culture during this period was antipathetic to religion (Wadsworth and Freeman 1983). Sociology in particular tended to treat religion as an epiphenomenon. The sociology of religion was dominated by the topic of secularization. And the sociology of illness took much of its agenda from medicine, and where it did not, was dominated by a monolithic picture of society in which overarching social conventions defined what is normal, and the ill were among many groups of deviants who struggled with, and variously renegotiated, accepted, evaded, or cheated these norms. If religion had a place in such a scheme, it was only detectable as the social cement in the conventional edifice, more of an obstruction than anything else to the spaces which people had made for themselves to live in. In short, medical sociology was itself highly secularized, even though many individual medical sociologists had some religious background and motivation, and it was developing on the liberal assumption that social life in its field of study had also become highly secularized.