It’s springtime in Vancouver and we’ve begun data collection in various healthcare settings. Located in a leafy green neighbourhood, we visited a residential care home where we were introduced to two of the chaplains, one who showed us the Sacred Spaces that residents have access to. During this tour, she told us about the range of religious traditions that residents identify with, saying: “it is often the case that in one room, there are 4 beds, 4 residents, 4 religions and 4 languages.” We were struck by this quote because of what it reveals about the context of healthcare, where the fragility of life intersects with a range of values and beliefs, faith traditions and backgrounds.
The implications of this pluralism play out at institutional, and social levels, and in the intimate room of a care home with four individuals. The chaplain went on to say that there are different ways residents handle religious differences amongst each other, such as giving space to their co-residents and families when one of them is in their final moments of life or has died. At other points care home staff observe and feel the residents in harmony with each other even though they might not speak the same language. In the context of this residential care home, we were attentive to how they are making space for all, which cannot always be easy. After all, places such as hospitals and residential care homes are complex social systems and microcosms of broader society where harmony, ambivalence and conflict coincide. Charles Taylor (2011) asserts that neutrality is not achieved by silencing or erasing religion from public discourse; indeed, excluding religion from the public sphere undermines the ways in which religion may contribute to social solidarity and common goals like liberty and equality. But how are these ideals negotiated in the public sphere? In looking closely at “one room, 4 beds, 4 residents, 4 religions and 4 languages”, we will begin to uncover through the study of prayer the complexities of lived religion in public spaces.
Taylor, C. (2011). Why we need a radical redefinition of secularism. In C. Calhoun, M. Juergensmeyer, and J.Van Antwerpen (eds.) Rethinking secularism (pp.34-59). New York: Oxford University Press.