The doctor as God's mechanic? Beliefs in the Southeastern United States

Soc Sci Med. 2002 Feb;54(3):399-409. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(01)00038-7.


Spiritual practice and beliefs related to healing are described using data from a telephone survey. Questions in the survey address the practice of prayer and spiritual beliefs related to healing. Questions explore belief in miracles, that God acts through religious healers, the importance of God's will in healing, and that God acts through physicians. Questions also ask whether people discuss spiritual concerns with their physician and whether they would want to if seriously ill. We create a composite index to compare religious faith in healing across race, gender, education, income denomination, and health status. Logistic regression predicts types of patients who believe God acts through physicians and those inclined to discuss spiritual concerns when ill. The most important findings are that: 80% of respondents believe God acts through physicians to cure illness, 40% believe God's will is the most important factor in recovery, and spiritual faith in healing is stronger among women. African-Americans, Evangelical Protestants, the poorer, sicker, and less educated. Those who believe that God acts through physicians are more likely to be African-American than White (OR = 1.9) and 55 or older (OR = 3.5). Those who discuss spiritual concerns with a physician are more likely to be female (OR = 1.9) and in poor health (OR = 2.1). Although 69% say they would want to speak to someone about spiritual concerns if seriously ill, only 3% would choose to speak to a physician. We conclude that religious faith in healing is prevalent and strong in the southern United States and that most people believe that God acts through doctors. Knowledge of the phenomena and variation across the population can guide inquiry into the spiritual concerns of patients.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health / ethnology*
  • Black or African American / psychology
  • Data Collection
  • Faith Healing / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • North Carolina
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Religion and Medicine*
  • Southeastern United States
  • Spirituality
  • Telephone
  • White People / psychology