Archive for Faith Based Health Care

Building our collaboration with Stanford

The event New Perspectives in Compassion held at Stanford University California on 16th March was the first academic collaboration between CCARE and the Global Health Academy (GHA) following the launch of our Compassion Initiative in September in Edinburgh by the Principal. We are very grateful to Dr Monica Worline , deputy director, and Professor Jim Doty director at CCARE for their impeccable organisation. It was attended by just over 200 individuals including Edinburgh and Stanford faculty, students and alumni, and those living in the Bay Area and provided a series of short presentations by Stanford  and Edinburgh academics from a number of disciplines in the sciences and humanities.

New Perspectives in Compassion Panel

New Perspectives in Compassion Panel

It was part of the Edinburgh University’s pop-up week in the Bay area of California, which also included events on big data, veterinary medicine, and history.

We were really fortunate to have the active engagement of the Principal, Sir Timothy O’Shea for the afternoon. After an introduction by Jim Doty and Liz Grant, the first session included a short talk and reading of a poem by John Gillies (written by a Stanford medical graduate) from the second edition of ‘Tools of the Trade’. This is a small volume of poems gifted to all new medical graduates in Scotland for the past two years.

Prof Paul Gilbert, an Edinburgh alumnus, and the psychologist who helped to kickstart research and education in compassion over two decades ago, gave an overview of his developing work including psychological tools to help people with moderate to severe problems of anxiety and self esteem.  Monica Worline introduced the theme of compassion in the workplace, the importance of shifting the balance of efficiency and effective measures from material linear outputs to relational outputs, the satisfaction, the ability to enjoy work, the opportunity to grow and flourish in a work environment. Following Monica was one of CCARE’s research partners, Professor Anne-Birgitta Pessi, a visiting Professor of Church and Social Studies from Finland. She summarised a novel approach based on Ricoeurian theory and using specific training to improve compassionate behaviour in leadership and workforce in large corporations in Finland, based on a novel approach called Co-Passion training -

The second session had a recorded contribution from Dr Paul Brennan, Co –Director of the Edinburgh GHA Compassion Initiative on the effects of neurosurgery on compassion in patients. Brian Knutson, associate professor of psychology at Stanford spoke on the neural basis of emotions, and we finished with a fascinating talk by associate professor Firdhaus Dhabhar , a Stanford psychiatrist who spoke about the ill effects of chronic stress on immunity and accelerating ageing, and how these can be mitigated by social support, mindfulness and meditation.


Professor James Doty, Dr Liz Grant, Dr John Gillies

Professor James Doty, Dr Liz Grant, Dr John Gillies

The second half of the afternoon was a distinguished panel, moderated by Jim Doty on The Compassionate Robot: myth, nightmare or solution. We selected this subject because of the rapidly developing technology around robots and their increasing use in healthcare and social settings across the world.  Principal Sir Tim O’Shea suggested that while a non human robot could not provide truly human compassion, it could provide ‘artificial compassion’ where that would be of utilitarian benefit. However, human compassion also had its inauthentic side as well, he suggested. Rev Professor Jane Shaw, Dean of Religious Life at Stanford gave a Humanities based perspective on what it means to be human: having what Adam Smith called ‘fellow-feeling’ or sympathy. In society today this she argued is often characterised by the shared construct we know either as compassion (which is based on a Buddhist model) or grace ( the word that encapsulates compassion emerging within the Christian tradition). Our understanding of compassion in robots can be much enhanced by looking through the lens of arts and humanities.    Alastair Boyle, Global Client partner of Google and head of strategy at the company Essence looked at compassion in advertising, illustrating this with the ‘Dove’ soap campaign which purposefully set out to make women feel better about themselves. He admitted that the strategy used by all companies now of tailoring advertisements though individual’s internet searches could in fact provide inappropriate and unhelpful targeting at times. He also touched on the ‘uncanny valley’ problem of life-like robots making people feel uncomfortable.

Jon Oberlander, professor of Epistemics here at the University of Edinburgh talked about robotic developments which enabled them to perceive and respond to human emotion, also the benefits and problems associated with robotic carers providing ‘care’ but reducing interaction with human carers. Ultimately, he said, ‘robots just don’t care’, in the metaphoric sense, however the responsibility to care lies not with the robot but with the creator.

The afternoon provided both a breadth of disciplinary approaches and, at times, a surprising depth of insight into the rapidly developing area of academic work on compassion. There was a great deal for our Global Health Academy’s Global Compassion Initiative to build on for the future; much more to come!


Dr John Gillies,  Senior Adviser Global Health Academy, Co-Director GHA Compassion initiative

Dr Liz Grant, Director, Global Health Academy, Co-Director GHA Compassion Initiative

Faith Based Health Care – The Lancet Series

Faith Based Health Care –   The Lancet Series launched at the World Bank as part of the “Religion & Sustainable Development: Building Partnerships to End Extreme Poverty” conference in Washington D.C. July 7th – 9th 2015.

The “new normal” of faith communities engaging in sustainable development was underpinned by the President of the World Bank’s recognition that a new paradigm is necessary within development. Using the framework of liberation theology he posited the importance of building action on a “ preferential option for the poor”. A move to shift development mandates from focusing on developing wealth as a priority to seeing wealth development in the context of a much wider value based paradigm.

He remarked that almost all religions are committed to the poor and vulnerable and have set in place systems to care for the poor, as well as systems to challenge poverty, and the drivers of poverty:

“[True] righteousness is [in] one who believes in God, the Last Day, the Angels, the Book, the Prophets and gives of their wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes Prayer and practices regular charity…” [Quran 2:177]

this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. [Isaiah 58:6-7, NLT]

These examples from two of the world’s religions are amplified in other faiths.   But more needs to be done, the shared agenda between the development goal to “ End Poverty in all forms everywhere” and the ethos of Religions to care for the poor should be built upon in new ways.

Goal statements in themselves cannot bring about the transitions required for change.   I believe that there needs to be an investment in the values that underpin development goals as this is where the real and hard work sits and where the biggest differences will be made. Values shape people and belong to people, and as the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development pointed out, “it is the people of faith, the estimated 80%+ of the total world population whose values will determine whether or not the sustainable development goals change the world we live in for good”

As a University what is our responsibility to participate in Sustainable Development Goal One To end poverty in all its forms everywhere?   How and where can the creation, dissemination and curation of knowledge contribute to achieving this goal?     As students, as staff, as alumni and partners of the university we are part of 432 years of knowledge, we are part of a community that spans every country in the world through our alumni presence, both past and current, we are part of a deep and rich hub of information management and sharing capabilities.   We all have the responsibility of taking our University mission of creation, dissemination and curation of knowledge and of applying this knowledge, ours is the responsibility of implementation. And in this implementation we can work together. Knowledge by its very nature is a catalyst for change, and each of us carries this capacity.

In looking through the lens of “preferential options for the poor” the Global Health Academy is seeking to raise scholarships for those who cannot afford the fees for the many innovative online distance learning MSc programmes that we have developed and which target critical global health challenges. We recognize that brilliant minds living in resource poor countries hold the key to bring about change both within their country, and globally. Recognising especially in healthcare the impact and extent of faith community contribution to rural health services we have recently partnered with faith communities to help train doctors for rural family medicine in the new MSc in Family Medcine

This is just one example, the opportunities and the needs are vast and there is always more that could and should be done – we welcome your ideas, stories of knowledge in action and thoughts on what, where and how next.


mgrant1  photo

Dr Liz Grant, Director of The Global Health Academy and member of the working group for the Lancet Series- Faith Based Health Care ; ; ;

Membership of the Global Health Academy is open to everyone with a passion for engaging in global health.