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Paging God

Religion in the Halls of Medicine

While the modern science of medicine often seems nothing short of miraculous, religion still plays an important role in the past and present of many hospitals. When three-quarters of Americans believe that God can cure people who have been given little or no chance of survival by their doctors, how do today’s technologically sophisticated health care organizations address spirituality and faith?
Through a combination of interviews with nurses, doctors, and chaplains across the United States and close observation of their daily routines, Wendy Cadge takes readers inside major academic medical institutions to explore how today’s doctors and hospitals address prayer and other forms of religion and spirituality.  From chapels to intensive care units to the morgue, hospital caregivers speak directly in these pages about how religion is part of their daily work in visible and invisible ways. In Paging God: Religion in the Halls of Medicine, Cadge shifts attention away from the ongoing controversy about whether faith and spirituality should play a role in health care and back to the many ways that these powerful forces already function in healthcare today.

328 pages | 16 halftones, 2 line drawings, 6 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2012


Religion: American Religions

Sociology: General Sociology, Medical Sociology


"From the opening narrative about a Buddhist monk near death to the concluding story about a parent seeking prayer, Paging God is rich with insights about the challenges facing health practitioners as America becomes more religiously and ethnically diverse.  This is ethnographic research at its best.  Wendy Cadge has written an impressive study that should be read by everyone interested in understanding how religious diversity is reshaping our society."

Robert Wuthnow | author of America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity

"Paging God is essential reading for those interested in the ever-shifting place of spirituality in American healthcare and society. Weaving interviews from patients, staff, doctors and chaplains into a fascinating story of the power of religion and spirituality in the lives of those struggling with illness and death, Wendy Cadge’s study excels in scientific objectivity—but with sensitivity to the nuanced role of religion in the lives of people involved in the hospital experience."

Helen Rose Ebaugh | University of Houston

"We tend to see the hospital as a temple to the gods of technology, professionalism, and bureaucracy. Paging God looks at the human and emotional texture of lives lived—and lost—in the hospital. Focusing on the role of religion and a more amorphous ’spirituality’ Wendy Cadge focuses on the spaces—chapel, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Medical Intensive Care Unit—and careers—especially the hospital chaplain—where values and individual pain are configured. In the role of the hospital chaplain she has found a particularly revealing case study in the development of a not-quite semi-profession, illuminating that borderland between the individuality of human pain and the power of technical capacity. This book should be of interest to anyone interested in the felt reality of health care in the twenty-first century."

Charles Rosenberg | Harvard University

“The blend of historical, archival research, in-depth interviews and participant observation, and visual analysis of archeology and design in Paging God is powerful, and Wendy Cadge’s attempts to make sense of this peculiar yet dominant social world will be enthusiastically received.”

Elizabeth M. Armstrong | Princeton University

“Combined with a historical perspective of health care chaplaincy over the past 120 years, Wendy Cadge presents a comprehensive study of the role of faith in contemporary American acute care hospitals, and of those who are especially charged with fulfilling it. This social study of how faith is experienced by clinicians in contemporary acute health care is fascinating, but above all, an invaluable contribution to the study of health care systems and of health care chaplaincy.”

Daniel H. Grossoehme, DMin, BCC | Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

“Drawing both on historical materials and on her rich first-hand field data, Wendy Cadge reveals how pervasive diverse forms of religion and spirituality are among patients and their families—and among caregivers inside American hospitals. Using a narrative case study-based framework, Cadge pays particular attention to hospital chaplains and nurses, the work they do, and the evolution of their professions. Perceptive and penetrating, Paging God is an absorbing, creative, and illuminating book that has ramifying import.”

Renée C. Fox | author of The Sociology of Medicine: A Participant Observer’s View

“In Paging God, Wendy Cadge opens a window into faith as experienced by hospital caregivers, presenting the narratives of nurses, chaplains, physicians, and other members of the hospital team as they care for people of diverse religious traditions. Fascinating and illuminating, this book is a revelation.”

Harold Koenig, MD | Center for Spirituality, Theology & Health, Duke University Medical Center

"In this remarkable book, Wendy Cadge recounts the curious history of hospital chaplaincy care. With a tenor of measured appreciation, she marks out the unmistakable good that chaplains do by being fully present to those who are sick, providing a candid, detailed, and scientifically informed assessment of the state of chaplaincy today. In this comprehensive and entirely unprecedented report, Cadge shines light on the history and current shape of hospital chaplaincy in the United States. At the same time she holds up a mirror in which the field of chaplaincy can take a long look and ask whether it has become something other than what it set out to be."

Farr Curlin, MD | Program on Medicine and Religion, University of Chicago Medical Center

 "This book will interest students of medicine, nursing, and theology for its grounded analysis rooted in real-world contexts. Recommended."


"Cadge’s focus on hospital administration and personnel provides a rich account of religion and spirituality in American hospitals that should not be missed by scholars of religion or medicine."

Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion

Paging God is an informative account of religion and spirituality in contemporary hospitals. The book addresses key sociological issues as they play out in the hospital context.”

American Journal of Sociology

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. In the Beginning—A Tour

Chapter 2. Looking Back: Glimpses of Religion and Spirituality in the History of Academic Medical Centers

Chapter 3. From Symbols to Silence: The Design and Use of Hospital Chapels

Chapter 4. Wholeness, Presence, and Hope: The Perspectives of Hospital Chaplains

Chapter 5. Essential or Optional? How Hospitals Shape the Professional Tasks of Chaplains

Chapter 6. Spirituality and Religion in Intensive Care: Staff’s Perspectives and Professional Responses

Chapter 7. Why Sickness and Death? Religion and Spirituality in the Ways Intensive Care Unit Staff Make Meaning

Chapter 8. Managing Death: The Personal and Institutional “Dirty Work” of Chaplains

Chapter 9. Conclusion: Looking Forward

Appendix: Research Methods





American Academy of Religion: AAR Award for Excellence - Analytical-Descriptive Studies

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