Negotiating Religious Differences in Secular Organizations: The Case of Hospital Chapels

Wendy Cadge

in Religion on the Edge

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199938629
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199980758 | DOI:
Negotiating Religious Differences in Secular Organizations: The Case of Hospital Chapels

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This chapter explores how religious pluralism is negotiated outside of congregations in the space of secular hospital chapels in the United States. Hospital chapels are one of many ways religion and spirituality are negotiated in contemporary American hospitals. While the spaces have shifted from tradition specific to more interfaith over time, they continue to display ambivalence on several levels. First, despite renovations and attempts to create more interfaith and welcoming spaces, some—not all—retain traditional Christian or Jewish motifs in their stained glass windows, pews, and orienting objects like altars. Others have replaced these Christian motifs with abstract stained glass and nature images—implicitly, as well as explicitly, removing religious symbols from the spaces as underlying Protestant assumptions fade. Second, despite a movement toward interfaith spaces, the majority of hospitals continue to offer poorly attended services—most especially Catholic mass—sometimes in symbol-less physical spaces. More generally, the chapel spaces described here reinforce arguments about ambivalence around religion and spirituality in hospitals more generally.

Keywords: religious pluralism; secular hospital chapels; American hospitals; interfaith spaces; religion; spirituality

Chapter.  7272 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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