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Belief and ageing

Belief and ageing: Spiritual pathways in later life

Peter G. Coleman
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  • Book Info
    Belief and ageing
    Book Description:

    Based on 40 years' interviewing experience, this book illustrates the variety of religious, spiritual and other beliefs held by older people. It provides models of research procedure, especially in the context of bereavement. Participants include not only British Christians, but also Muslims, Humanists and witnesses of the Soviet persecution of religion. The author argues that both welfare professionals and gerontologists need to pay far more consideration to belief as a constituent of well-being in later life. The book looks to the future and increasing diversity of choice in matters of belief among Britain and Europe's older citizens as a consequence of immigration and globalisation.

    eISBN: 978-1-84742-940-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Foreword
    (pp. iv-iv)
    Judith Phillips

    Spirituality is a neglected area for public discussion, yet a crucial aspect for many older people in later life. Reviewing life and its meaning from the perspective of later life is often missing in academic texts on ageing and older people. Yet spiritual needs increase with age and spirituality can be a crucial support to many, particularly during transitions associated with later life such as bereavement.

    This book redresses that omission. It deals with the terminology around spirituality, religion and belief ; it stresses older people’s views throughout; it looks at spirituality from a multi-faith perspective and couches this within...

  2. ONE Ageing and belief
    (pp. 1-10)
    Peter G. Coleman

    This is a book intended to make some contribution to filling what has become a large gap in the study of ageing, especially in the UK. We have learned so much in the last half century about the biological, social and psychological processes involved in human ageing, but we have neglected the spiritual dimension. This neglect is the more surprising when one takes into account that the later stages of life raise fundamental questions about the purpose and meaning of life, for example finding justification for continued living in states of diminished physical or social functioning (Howse, 1999; Polivka, 2000)....

  3. TWO The changing social context of belief in later life
    (pp. 11-34)
    Peter G. Coleman

    In this and the following chapters we shall aim to cite generously from the transcripts of recordings we have made of older people speaking about their beliefs. We have attempted neither to improve the language used nor to hide the very real difficulties people often encounter in putting their beliefs into words. This is one reason perhaps for the social sciences’ neglect of spiritual discourse. It is hard to analyse, and appropriate methods of qualitative analysis may not yet have been developed. But the importance of spiritual discourse is indicated by its frequent proximity to expressions of personal well-being.


  4. THREE Listening and enabling the sharing of beliefs and values in later life
    (pp. 35-58)
    Marie A. Mills, Peter Speck and Peter G. Coleman

    Little is written of the inherent practical difficulties in questioning and listening to older people speaking about sensitive issues. For some older people, such matters can include personal beliefs, which may never have been readily discussed before. We also have to bear in mind that thoughts about beliefs and values may never have been fully processed and thus remain difficult to articulate. The older person may fear being judged as foolish, uneducated, or misunderstood. In addition to having a good knowledge of the ageing process, we have found in our research that the researcher, as both listener and collector of...

  5. FOUR Ageing and faith: trajectories across the lifespan
    (pp. 59-78)
    Peter G. Coleman, Marie A. Mills and John H. Spreadbury

    Traditionally older people are expected to be more religious than younger people, and there are good social and psychological reasons for this. Religious leadership is seen as an appropriate role for an older person, and advancing years are associated with increasing spirituality rather than materiality of goals. Discussion of this subject within the social science literature dates back at least as far as William James (1902) and most commentators since then have attributed the association between religion and age to the way religion answers questions about the meaning of life which become more salient as people age (Marcoen, 2005; McFadden,...

  6. FIVE Religious responses in coping with spousal bereavement
    (pp. 79-96)
    John H. Spreadbury and Peter G. Coleman

    Up until recently the use of religion as a coping resource in circumstances of bereavement has been relatively ignored in both psychology and sociology. Indeed, as Holloway notes in her review of ‘negotiating death in contemporary health and social care’, little ‘intellectually rigorous’ attempt has been made to integrate theological (and philosophical) reflection with psychosocial approaches to dying and bereavement (Holloway, 2007: 91). This is particularly surprising when one considers that up to 85% of the world’s population is thought to have some kind of religious belief (Sedikides, 2010) and that most if not all religions have specific teaching about...

  7. SIX Coping without religious faith: ageing among British Humanists
    (pp. 97-112)
    Peter J. Wilkinson and Peter G. Coleman

    In the previous chapter we examined the benefits of a religious faith in providing meaning at times of loss in later life, in the context perhaps most favourable to religion – following a major bereavement. But meaningful lives can also be constructed both in and out of difficult times without recourse to religious faith (Andrews, 1991). It has been a major deficiency in much of the literature on religion, coping and well-being to compare people of different levels of religiosity without considering other strong belief systems that they may hold. Although it may be demonstrable that persons of strong religious...

  8. SEVEN Religious memory and age: European diversity in historical experience of Christianity
    (pp. 113-138)
    Peter G. Coleman, Marie Gianelli, Marie A. Mills and Ignat Petrov

    Although this book’s focus has been on the beliefs expressed by British older people it is no longer possible to draw strong boundaries around the beliefs of a particular nation, society or culture. We live in an increasingly globalised world, of regular tourist travel as well as of migration in search of better work opportunities, and also, increasingly in mature adulthood, of hopes for an improved quality of life. Religious influences from neighbouring and more distant cultures impact on our lives in ways that can be illuminating but also unsettling. This is particularly so if the new culture exemplifies a...

  9. EIGHT Religious difference and age: the growing presence of other faiths
    (pp. 139-156)
    Peter G. Coleman, Amina Begum and Saba Jaleel

    Not only has the UK experienced a decline in religious observance over the last 50 years, it has also witnessed an increase in the diversity of religious, and spiritual, expression. Taken together these phenomena can give the impression that the UK is ceasing to be a Christian country. Within the countryside the medieval churches of small towns and villages demonstrate an ancient Christian heritage, but in the big cities the new religious buildings of Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and other faiths often appear much more alive than the Victorian and early-20th-century Christian churches built in large numbers to minister to an...

  10. NINE Ageing and the future of belief
    (pp. 157-164)
    Peter G. Coleman

    The return of religion to the public agenda has been one of the major surprises of the new century. However, older people seem not to have benefited so far from this increased attention to belief and its implications. In the UK itself religion, spirituality and belief have rarely achieved coverage in conferences and publications on the needs of older people or gained much from the increasing funds given to research on ageing by the British research councils. It might be claimed that religious older people are no longer the majority of their age group. But there is increasing recognition that...