Meet Baylor’s nationally recognized expert on faith and health
“Epidemiology of religion” is a fancy term for the study of how religious faith impacts health and well-being. From prayer to beliefs about God, how do expressions of faith shape the way we feel, heal and respond to illness? At Baylor, we don’t have to look far to find an expert in epidemiology of religion, because one of the nation’s pioneers on the topic is a Baylor Bear.
Dr. Jeff Levin is a university professor in Baylor’s medical humanities program and director of the Program on Religion and Population Health in Baylor’s Institute for the Studies of Religion. He holds degrees in both religion (a bachelor’s in religion & sociology from Duke) and medicine (a master’s of public health from North Carolina, and a doctorate in preventive medicine and community health from the University of Texas Medical Branch), and has advanced those pursuits in important ways.
After helping start the field of epidemiology of religion, Levin was the first scientist to systematically review empirical literature in religion and health. He also became the first scientist funded by the National Institutes of Health to research the topic.
Since coming to Baylor in 2009, Levin’s research has covered a large array of issues. In 2016, he authored a study that found 9 out of 10 Americans have prayed for healing, a number Levin admits surprised him. That total suggests, he says, that prayer is one of the most common forms of treatment among Americans, and not just a “fringe activity.” He has also examined the partnerships between faith-based organizations and the healthcare professions, and studied religion and health among American Jews. Before the 2016 presidential election, Levin wrote a widely-shared letter to the next surgeon general about the impact of poverty on public health.
As a leader in his field, Levin has also served as a voice calling for more complete research in religion and health. Levin has said too much research lives in a “theological vacuum,” in which researchers presuming to assess faith and religion define religion too vaguely. Given that people’s faith and beliefs in the nature of God are as varied as the individuals themselves, he’s urged researchers to more clearly define what they mean when referencing religion or faith in their work.
In addition to authoring and editing numerous books, Levin’s expertise has been called upon by CNN, CBS, Fox News, HuffPost and more. In fact, he has been named one of the most highly-cited social scientists in the world by the Institute for Scientific Information.
Sic ’em, Dr. Jeff Levin!