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Winter 2005 Newsletter

On-Line Newsletter Volume 3, Number 2
Published January 27, 2005

Edited by Chaplain John Ehman, Network Convener

Network members are encouraged to submit articles for upcoming issues
of the Newsletter, which is published three times a year: Fall, Winter, and Spring.
The Spring 2005 issue is scheduled to be posted on the site in May.

Table of Contents

  1. "Looking for God in a Mind-Blowing Big Universe," by Frank Ciampa, CPE Supervisor (retired)
  2. Twelve Guiding Questions for Incorporating Research into a CPE Curriculum
  3. Special Feature on Spirituality in The Southern Medical Journal
  4. A Proposal for a Strategic Approach to Developing Research in Chaplaincy
  5. Interest in Research Using the "Beliefs About God Assessment Form" (BAGAF)
  6. Convener's Report of the Fall Network Meeting in Portland, Maine


1.     "Looking for God in a Mind-Blowing Big Universe," by Frank Ciampa, CPE Supervisor (retired)

[Editor's Note: While the discourse of our Research Network usually revolves around specific issues and studies about chaplaincy or about connections between spirituality and health, the following brief essay reminds us how fascinating can be the broader relationship between religion and science, and how science itself--in this case, cosmology--may be inspiring to our religious sensibilities. --J.E.]

When I look at your heavens, the work of you fingers, the moon and stars which you have established; what are [we] that you are mindful of us? --Psalm 8: 3,4a (paraphrased)

When the Psalmist penned these lines, he expressed his astonishment that the Creator of the vast world could possibly be mindful of humanity. I'm sure that looking up into the black night sky strewn with countless stars has always seemed overwhelming to us humans--but if David had only known what we know about the size of the universe, it would have fried his circuits! What is even more amazing to me is that our understanding of the "size" and "nature" of the universe as it is unfolding to scientists today suggests that the universe is even more gigantic than we thought even a few years ago.

I have just finished wading through Brian Greene's book, The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality for the second time. Admittedly, much of it is beyond me, but even the parts I do understand stretch my capacity to grasp. Greene, whose last book, The Elegant Universe, introduced laypersons to "string theory," takes his description of the cosmos a step further in his present book. In it he traces the contributions of many physicists and astronomers over the past generation who have pieced together the current understanding of our universe. For Greene, the focus of this book is not about the size of the universe, but about understanding what we have come to know or believe about the nature of the universe by uncovering the process by which it has come to be what it is. This is a great "detective story," which has some fascinating collateral discoveries, among which are these:

  • Space is not empty--it consists of many kinds of "fields" that are made up of "waves," like microwaves, light waves, etc.
  • These fields are what make wireless communication possible.
  • The microwave field across the entire cosmos is a uniform temperature.
  • Two particles that are billions of miles apart in space can be connected is such a way that they act in concert, as though they were physically attached to each other.
  • All that we experience in the "interior" of the cosmos may be very much like a holographic image of activity taking place "on the surface" of the cosmos (whatever that means).

However strange and wondrous these characteristics of the cosmos may be, I want to give you Greene's comparison to try to grasp the size of the entire universe (the cosmos). He says that if the cosmos were the size of the earth, then all the universe that we can see with our telescopes and other instruments of detection would be smaller than a grain of sand! Let that sink in. What would the Psalmist have said about a God who reigned over such a universe as that? How does God even find humanity in such vastness? For that matter, is it any easier for us to deal with this expanding understanding of the nature of existence?

My hope comes in another aspect of Greene's book. He makes it clear that the key to understanding the cosmos is in understanding the tiniest elements in the universe--which in present day physics are believed to be sub-atomic: consisting of electrons, quarks, and "strings." In these unbelievably tiny particles is written the history of the cosmos--going back to a "big bang," before which all the substance of the universe had compressed to a size smaller than an atom. Don't ask me how that could be--it's in the book.

Someone, long ago, said that if we truly understood a drop of water, we would understand the universe. If the astrophysicists are correct, we need to understand far less than a drop of water to unlock the universe to us.

God is in the small stuff as well as in the great. One of the most clarifying things in Greene's book to me was a statement that there was a moment in the history of the unfolding cosmos when the conditions were just right, and at that moment, what was happening on a microcosmic level got projected on to the huge screen that today we know as the universe, the cosmos.

So I think we have two choices: we can conceptualize God in a particular way, and as our understanding of the universe grows, God can get lost among the galaxies beyond our ability to imagine; or we can imagine a God who was there when this all got started, and let our picture of God expand with our understanding of the elegant universe in which we find ourselves! "How Great Thou Art"--indeed!

[Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality (New York: Alfred A. Knopf Publishing Group, 2004) is currently available in hardcover and in audio versions. It will be out as a paperback in February 2005.]


2.     Twelve Guiding Questions for Incorporating Research into a CPE Curriculum

Incorporating research into a CPE curriculum can be done in many ways: from focusing on research itself to simply using published research articles to explore topics of interest to chaplains. The following twelve questions should be helpful to Supervisors in assessing how research may be suited for a particular program, taking into account factors of the curriculum, available resources, and characteristics of students.

1) Is the chaplaincy program related to a health care setting?

The great amount of research currently being published on Spirituality & Health makes incorporating research into a health care-based program relatively easy. Programs in non-health care settings (e.g., community-based programs) may at first seem poorly suited for incorporating research, but a wide variety of literature is available, allowing for an exploration of the value of research to virtually any area of interest to chaplains. Moreover, Supervisory Education programs should look at how research may inform education and assessment.

2) Are students expected to do research projects?

If "yes," emphasis should be placed on basic research methodology and proper institutional procedure through the Institutional Review Board (IRB). If "no," consider focusing on how to find and critically read research articles as part of chaplains' professional practice.

3) Is there a regular place in the schedule to discuss research or research-based articles?

A one or one-and-a-half hour block each month provides a regular (distributive learning) opportunity to think about and discuss research, be it for research projects or for a "journal club" about articles of interest. The Articles-of-the-Month selections on this web site offer a wide range of possibilities for a "journal club."

4) Are students expected to learn about literature sources for chaplaincy?

If "yes," highlight research articles in pastoral care journals and research-based articles from the health care literature that are pertinent to chaplaincy. (Again, consult our Articles-of-the-Month selections for ideas here.) If the program consults with a reference librarian, make him/her aware of such special interest.

5) Do students have access to a medical library and to health care literature databases?

If "yes," be sure that students are oriented to on-line databases (e.g., Medline, CINAHL, PsychINFO, and the Health & Psychosocial Instruments databases) or print indices (e.g., Index Medicus). If "no," a careful introduction to general Internet and public library resources may be necessary. Also, nearby unaffiliated medical libraries may be open to helping CPE students, if asked. All students should be aware of PubMed [], the free on-line library service of the National Library of Medicine.

6) Is there a researcher who can serve as a consultant to the program and mentor to students?

It may be relatively easy to find a local researcher who has published in the field of Spirituality & Health, but any health care researcher could be helpful. Nurses are often fine resources, because of both their potential camaraderie with Pastoral Care in the holistic care of patients and their usual familiarity with qualitative methodology that may be appealing to chaplain students.

7) Is there someone on the Institutional Review Board who can be a consultant?

Establishing a contact with the IRB can be invaluable for programs requiring research projects. However, any program may benefit from consultation with an IRB member, not only in terms of issues of scientific methodology but also research ethics.

8) Is there a statistician available to the program?

The availability of a statistician gives great opportunity for student research projects using quantitative methodology. Be open to the possibility of a graduate student who could fold his/her work with your program into an academic project.

9) Do students seem able/ready to read academic journal articles?

If "no," choose--at least initially--articles that are clearly written, have straightforward headings, avoid an extensive presentation of statistics, and are relatively short in length. (Research projects should not be encouraged of students unable to engage the literature.)

10) Are students familiar with the form and style of writing that is common to research literature?

If "no," specifically orient students to how the research literature tends to be written, and make the form and style of every article a topic for every article discussion. Challenge students to think about how research demands precision not only in the process of data collection and analysis but also in the language used to report findings.

11) Are students familiar with the use of statistics in research articles?

If "no," it may be best to guide students around the statistics in an article, while encouraging them to bring a critical sensibility to all other parts of the study. Caution students not to get "bogged down" in statistics that they may not understand, but rather to follow the overall thought of an article. Qualitative studies may be preferable to quantitative ones for new students.

12) Are students interested in the topic of research per se?

This is a fundamental question. If "no," select research articles based upon subjects of interest, and consider research (methodology) aspects of the articles secondarily. If students seem to feel uneasy about the relationship of research to religion/spirituality/chaplaincy, these feelings should be particularly discussed. (See the Fall 2003 Newsletter for a proposal to introduce students to research precisely through a discussion of epistemology.)


3.     Special Feature on Spirituality in The Southern Medical Journal

The December 2004 issue of The Southern Medical Journal (vol. 97, no. 12) offers a special feature section on spirituality: three editorials, ten articles, and a list of "Selected Resources." Among the authors are researchers from The HealthCare Chaplaincy in New York, NY. Note especially the following:

Koenig, H. G., "Religion, Spirituality, and Medicine: Research Findings and Implications for Clinical Practice," pp. 1194-1200.

Pargament, K. I., McCarthy, S., Shah, P., Ano, G., Tarakeshwar, N., Wachholtz, A., Sirrine, N., Vasconcelles, E., Murray-Swank, N., Locher, A. and Duggan, J., "Religion and HIV: A Review of the Literature and Clinical Implications," pp. 1201-1209.

Weaver, A. J. and Flannelly, K. J., "The Role of Religion/Spirituality for Cancer Patients and Their Caregivers," pp.1210-1214.

Krause, N., "Religion, Aging, and Health: Exploring New Frontiers in Medical Care," pp. 1215-1222.

Hummer, R. A., Ellison, C. G., Rogers, R. G., Moulton, B. E. and Romero, R. R., "Religious Involvement and Adult Mortality in the United States: Review and Perspective," pp. 1223-1230.

Flannelly, K. J., Ellison, C. G. and Strock, A. L., " Methodologic Issues in Research on Religion and Health," pp. 1231-1241.

Handzo, G. and Koenig, H. G. "Spiritual Care: Whose Job Is It Anyway?" pp. 1242-1244.

Weaver, A. J., Flannelly, K. J., Case, D. B. and Costa, K. G. "Religion and Spirituality in Three Major General Medical Journals From 1998 to 2000," pp. 1245-1249.


4.     A Proposal for a Strategic Approach to Developing Research in Chaplaincy

Chaplain Henry G. Heffernan, who in the Spring 2004 Newsletter outlined "An Approach to the Specification of Chaplain Visits," has expressed an interest in consulting with Network members about "A Strategy for Developing a Research Capability for the Field of Professional Chaplaincy." A 22-page draft summary of this proposal was distributed at the Network's meeting in Portland, Maine. The following excerpt describes briefly the five components of the strategy:

1 -- RESEARCHER COMPETENCE AND EXPERIENCE: The first requirement is that the chaplain researchers participate in a development program of projects that enable them to acquire, in progressive stages, the competence and experience for credibly conducting chaplaincy-relevant empirical research along with clinical researchers in medical specialties.

2 -- ORGANIZATIONAL SUPPORT BASE FOR ENABLING RESEARCH: The second requirement is that the organizational support base of a collaboratory be available for a cooperative program of research, with those necessary and sufficient enabling services that make it possible and efficient for chaplain researchers to collaborate in a cooperative program of research.

3 -- PROGRAM DESIGN FOR ACHEVING OBJECTIVES: The program's component projects and tasks must be comprehensive enough to include all of those necessary elements that, taken together, will be sufficient for achieving the objectives. Clearly the program design must provide the sequence of projects and tasks that will enable chaplain researchers to acquire, in progressive stages, the competence and experience for credibly conducting chaplaincy-relevant empirical research along with clinical researchers in medical specialties.

4 -- PRIORITY OBJECTIVES FOR THE RESEARCH: The research objectives of the program need to be tailored to match the priorities of major funding sources. Clearly this fourth condition is the factor that determines whether the funding will become available for supporting the organizational support base and activities that are needed for enabling the program to be accomplished.

5 -- ADEQUATE FUNDING: If the first four components are planned and developed correctly, there is a reasonable probability that adequate funding will be obtainable for a program that addresses high priority public health objectives.

Chaplain Heffernan may be contacted directly by e-mail at


5.     Interest in Research Using the "Beliefs about God Assessment Form" (BAGAF)

Chaplain Kyle D. Johnson (US Army, retired) has expressed an interest in working with other chaplains/researchers in using the "Beliefs about God Assessment Form" (BAGAF), which he published in 1990. The 36-item questionnaire was developed as a screening tool to help identify persons most in need of pastoral care/counseling. The instrument is informed by the author's concept of "theopathology," which he detailed in a 1991 article in The Journal of Pastoral Care (vol. 45, no. 3, pp. 244-252)--"Theopathology: Concept, Assessment, Intervention."

...theopathology [is defined] as the knowledge regarding a believer's concept of God which meets the criteria for a personality disorder as presented in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III-R) and in accordance with the personality theory of Theodore Millon. [--from the abstract]
More information on the BAGAF, including reliability data, is available in the author's article, "Conducting Religious Assessments: A Multidisciplinary Approach," Curia Animarum (1992 edition): 28-58.

Chaplain Johnson may be contacted directly by e-mail at


6.     Convener's Report of the Fall 2004 Annual Network Meeting in Portland, Maine

The Network meeting preceded our workshop on "Adding Research to CPE Curriculum: Challenging Students to Think Critically." The budget was approved (--for specifics on the budget, members should contact the Convener directly). There was general agreement that our Web Site venture was helpful to many supervisors, but more varied contributions to the content would improve the site, especially regarding educational issues. The Convener will seek to expand the listing on the Current Research Initiatives page. [NOTE (added 2/1/07): The Current Research Initiatives page is currently removed from the website for revision.]

It was decided that in addition to considering applications for the Research Awards, a Network committee would also nominate published researchers for special awards. While one member offered to help support a monetary award, no action was taken on this at the meeting. However, it was decided that the Network should continue to maintain a high profile at the national ACPE conferences by offering workshops and distributing information fliers (--a flier about our web site was again part of the general conference information packets). The Convener will explore the idea of another workshop at the November 2005 ACPE conference in Hawaii. The Convener also reported that an ACPE task force was looking into the formal relationship between the Networks and the national organization.

Two invitations for research were circulated: from Henry Heffernan and Kyle Johnson (--more on these is noted in sections 4 and 5 of this Newsletter, above). It was announced that an all-day workshop on research will be offered by George Fitchett and Pat Murphy at the April 2005 APC/NACC joint meeting in April 2005. The meeting closed with members sharing informally their interests and reports of current projects--in the spirit of networking, after all.

If you have suggestions about the form and/or content of the site, e-mail Chaplain John Ehman (Network Convener) at .
Copyright 2005
The ACPE Research Network. All rights reserved.