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Sociol Health Illn. 2008 Apr;30(3):413-28. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2007.01062.x.

Like a prayer: the role of spirituality and religion for people living with HIV in the UK.

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Institute of Health Sciences, City University London, UK.


Over 40,000 people are now living with diagnosed HIV in the UK. There is, however, uncertainty about how people with HIV use religion or spirituality to cope with their infection. Adopting a modified grounded theory approach, we analysed individual and group interviews with the people most affected by HIV in the UK: black African heterosexual men and women and gay men (mostly white). For the majority of black African heterosexual men and women in our study, religion was extremely important. We found that gay men in the study were less religious than black Africans, although many were spiritual in some way. Black African individuals constructed their spiritual narratives as largely Christian or collective, while gay men described more individualistic or 'New Age' approaches. We developed a six-level heuristic device to examine the ways in which prayer and meditation were deployed in narratives to modulate subjective wellbeing. These were: (i) creating a dialogue with an absent counsellor; (ii) constructing a compassionate 'life scheme'; (iii) interrupting rumination; (iv) establishing mindfulness; (v) promoting positive thinking, and (vi) getting results. That people with HIV report specific subjective benefits from prayer or meditation presents a challenge to secular healthcare professionals and sociologists.

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