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Theologisches Seminar | Theologische und Religionswissenschaftliche Fakultät

Spirituality and Health in the United Nations

Spirituality and Health in the United Nations: Global Norms and Local Practices (Swiss National Science Foundation)

Prof. Dr. Simon Peng-Keller (PI)Dr. Fabian Winiger, Dr. Ellen Goodwin, Prof. Dr.  David Neuhold

In the past two decades, religious communities and 'faith-based organisations' (FBOs) have become increasingly recognised as valuable partners in global health. This project investigates how and why the various organisations and programmes of the United Nations cooperate with religious actors across the globe, and what this may contribute to the engagement of Switzerland in international aid, as well as to the development of the Swiss national healthcare system.

Follow-up project to the SNF research project on the 'spiritual Dimension' of health in the World Health Organization


Scientific and societal context

Due to the growing global interdependence, unabated migration and escalating ecological crises, the question of how to create just, humane and sustainable healthcare systems has become a key challenge of international and national political discourse. 

In response, over the past decades new forms of cooperation between secular international organisations and 'faith-based organisations' (FBOs) active in global health have emerged in the  United Nations. As of yet these have been hardly researched, and may offer important lessons on how to create effective cooperation between religious communities and secular institutions both in global health and in the Swiss national healthcare system.

Content and aim

This project aims to investigate the documents published by UN-organisations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNICEF or the World Bank group, to evaluate their significance for the development of effective forms of cooperation between secular and religious actors active both in the field of global health and in the Swiss healthcare context. Of particular interest are implications for the development of the interprofessional field of spiritual care.

The guiding questions are:

  1. Which roles are played by spiritual aspects and the cooperation with FBOs and religious communities?
  2. Which concepts of health(care) inform these documents?
  3. What significance do these documents and the concepts and models they contain have for the Swiss healthcare system and the engagement of Switzerland in international aid?

The project represents the first comprehensive study on the role of UN-Organisations and their religious partners in the field of global health.

In addition to knowledge on the requirements and possibilities of cooperation, this project also seeks conceptual clarifications, expertise and orientational knowledge in the field of spiritual care and spirituality in healthcare, and seeks to open a new scope of action both in international aid and in Swiss national healthcare.


Scientific advisory council

Prof. Dr. Hansjörg Schmid, Universität Fribourg
Prof. Dr. Peter G. Kirchschläger, Universität Luzern
Tit.-Prof. Dr. Markus Zimmermann, Universität Freiburg
Prof. Dr. Martina King, Universität Freiburg
Prof. Dr. Carlo Knöpfel, FH Nordwestschweiz
Prof. Dr. Jakob Zinsstag, Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute
Prof. Dr. Wendy Cadge, Brandeis University
Dr. Sally L. Smith, Beraterin WHO, ehem. UNAIDS
Prof. Dr. John Swinton, University of Aberdeen
Prof. Dr. Allan Kellehear, Bradford University
Prof. Dr. Walter Bruchhausen, Universität Bonn
Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, International Catholic Migration Commission
Dr. Mwai Makoka, World Council of Churches