Bridging Science and Religion: How Health-Care Workers as Storytellers Construct Spiritual Meanings

Don Grant, Jeff Sallaz, Cindy Cain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Contrary to the notion that medical science has supplanted religious understandings of human suffering, recent research suggests that health-care workers like nurses can still portray their confrontations with illness and death in spiritual terms through storytelling. However, scholars have yet to systematically analyze the rhetorical devices used to construct spiritual meanings. Drawing on a symbolic interactionist perspective, we theorize that front-line health professionals can deploy various rhetorical devices to infuse their workplace interactions with a spiritual significance. We also propose novel fuzzy set analysis techniques for determining which configurations of devices are most important in developing spiritual meanings. This approach was illustrated by examining 173 stories elicited from nurses at a nonsectarian, teaching hospital about encounters at work that significantly impacted their understanding of spirituality. Consistent with our expectations, the way in which nurses tell stories about their experiences not only shapes whether they attach spiritual significance to them, but whether they perceive spirituality and medicine to be compatible. We discuss the implications of our findings for future research on lived religion, conflicting identities, and institutional boundaries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)465-484
Number of pages20
JournalJournal for the Scientific Study of Religion
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016


  • healthcare
  • narrative
  • spirituality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies


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