This collection of essays explores the intersection of religious, psychosocial, economic and cultural issues in relation to the dramatic demographic shifts we are facing on a global scale.
Theologians, gerontologists, anthropologists and practitioners reflect on the meaning of aging in diverse contexts such as Indonesia, South Africa, Tanzania, Botswana, Germany, Mexico, and Switzerland. Assuming that aging is an intricate process that encompasses enrichment and loss, the gain of wisdom and the loss of memory, and the expansion as well as the constraint of agency, the essays analyze how these dynamics play out in different cultural contexts. Special attention is given to the role of religion in processes of aging.
[Religion und Altwerden. Interkulturelle und interdisziplinäre Erkundungen]
Der Sammelband untersucht das Zusammenspiel religiöser, psychosozialer, ökonomischer und kultureller Aspekte in Bezug auf die dramatischen demographischen Veränderungen, mit denen wir in globaler Perspektive konfrontiert sind. Wissenschaftler und Praktiker reflektieren aus theologischer, gerontologischer, sozialpsychologischer und anthropologischer Perspektive die Bedeutung von Alterungsprozessen in unterschiedlichen Kontexten, z. B. in Indonesien, Südafrika, Tansania, Botswana, Deutschland, Mexiko und der Schweiz. Ausgehend von Überlegungen, die zeigen, dass Alterungsprozesse komplex sind und sowohl Bereicherung und Verlust, den Zugewinn an Weisheit und den Verlust von Erinnerungsfähigkeit sowie die Ausweitung als auch die Einschränkung von Handlungsfähigkeit beinhalten können, wird danach gefragt, welche Gestalt diese Dynamiken in unterschiedlichen Kontexten annehmen. Dabei kommt insbesondere die Bedeutung von Religion in den Blick.
Religion and Aging in International and Intercultural Perspectives - Mapping the Field
Andrea Bieler and Matthias Stracke
This volume explores pathways into a new field of scholarly inquiry. Reflecting on religion and aging in international and intercultural perspectives is an endeavor that has been neglected in theological as well as gerontological studies. Demographic trends as well as experiences in particular contexts, however, exhibit the urgent need to engage this field of inquiry.
Gathering under the umbrella of the United Nations in 1982, the World Assembly on Ageing already stressed that the expected demographic shifts would affect the majority of societies all around the globe. In 2002, the UN passed The Madrid International Plan on Ageing which demanded major shifts in policy making and in sociocultural attitudes concerning aging populations.
Statistics demonstrate the rapid growth of aging societies which predict the doubling of numbers of people older than 60 years by 2050. This development pertains to most regions on this planet and is accompanied with particular challenges that call for diverse political initiatives, especially in the areas of economic support systems, accessible health care, and diverse and flexible systems of social care for the elderly. Besides the demand for the shift in political interventions there is also a need for a critical reflection of the anthropological and religious assumptions that undergird prevailing attitudes towards aging populations.
So far, major distinguished research initiatives have not attended to the influence of religion on major demographic developments. Also, socio-psychological research that concentrates on the socioemotional factors with regard to attitudes towards the elderly have neglected the religious dimension. Simultaneously, gerontological research with an interest in religious questions related to the aging process has mainly focused on the European and North American context so far.
Taking these perceptions into account, this volume seeks to begin to attend to the gaps that emerge once one focuses on questions of aging and religion in intercultural and global contexts.
There are a variety of research questions that need to be addressed. First of all, on a global scale, we need to learn more about the diverse ways in which religious organizations and individuals respond to the complexities of aging societies. Assuming that aging is an intricate process that encompasses enrichment and loss, the gain of wisdom and the loss of memory, and the expansion as well as the constraint of agency, it would be crucial to analyze how these developments play out in different contexts.
Transformational processes related to aging need to be studied in an intercultural horizon that takes multidimensional and multidirectional dynamics into account. These dynamics play out on an individual as well as on a collective level. They find their particular expressions depending on the context. In addition, a culturally sensitive concept of vulnerability needs to be developed that considers the strengths and potentials that are unleashed in aging processes as well as the threats and endangerment that people are facing. These dimensions need to be addressed not only in empirical research but also in hermeneutical endeavors that seek to develop a theological anthropology that is sensitive with regards to the complex issues of aging persons. In this vein, it is important to explore the relevancy of religious practices and theological constructs in light of gerotranscendence. By gerotranscendence we mean the ability to see one's life in a larger context and horizon that might be nurtured by religious or spiritual insights or by understandings of the cosmological order. The question then arises to what extent such diverse ways of envisioning life in light of gerotranscendence supports aging people in developing resilient, hopeful, and at the same time realistic attitudes towards the challenges that growing old might bring.
The book is divided into three parts that provide a panorama of theoretical and practical approaches to aging and religion. The first sequence of articles opens the horizon by asking different disciplines for an account of the realities (and misperceptions) of aging from their perspective, be it gerontological, psychological, or anthropological. After this interdisciplinary part, attention is focused on theology and its self-critical reassessment of the role of age and aging in practical, systematic, and biblical theology. Finally, the last part of the book asks for insights from the practice in diaconic institutions, in public policy making, as well as in an international community of churches.
Ina Voelcker and Alexandre Kalache, both working at the International Longevity Centre Brazil (ILC-Brazil), give an overview of demographic realities and changes on a global scale, such as dropping fertility rates, growing life expectancies, urbanization and technologization, and their implications on the lives of (not only) older persons. They show that there is no easy picture here, but rather point out the ambiguities of old age between the 'silver market' and age related poverty, marginalization, and vulnerability. In light of inter alia the neglect of older persons in humanitarian projects, they emphasize the need for a Convention on the Rights of Older Persons at the level of the United Nations that would exceed the existing instruments and plans. With the World Health Organization's Active Ageing Policy Framework, recently updated by the ILC-Brazil, there exists, however, a guideline internationally used in policymaking. It focuses on multisectorial action in different sectors and the empowerment of individuals to influence their lives directly as well as indirectly - via policymaking.
The gerontologist Hans-Werner Wahl rather focuses on individual developments of aging seen as a psychological and social process. He provides an overview of main themes of behavioral and social gerontology. Again, aging proves to be ambiguous and cannot be simply understood as a deterioration of social and cognitive parameters. Hence, for example, old people keep gaining so called crystallized intelligence (e.g., verbal abilities and life experience) while their fluid intelligence (e.g., processing speed) declines at a rate no faster than in earlier years. Similarly, gerontological research of the past two decades disproved the long assumed decline of subjective wellbeing in later life. And though older persons do indeed have less social relations, they remain proactive toward maintaining social relations, especially in their families. Research on AARC (Awareness of Age- Related Change) shows that stereotypes of aging not only do harm as external effects but, internalized, also affect, for instance, live expectancy. The author also includes an outlook on current efforts in gerontology to combine theology, diaconal studies, and psychology in order to provide suggestions on how societies can better provide opportunities for older persons.
From another psychological angle, Jenny Lee and Helene Fung deepen the understanding of aging as a multifaceted stage of life by debunking the myths of old age-related loneliness, depression, and memory loss. Against the background of church realities in Hong Kong and New Zealand and psychological findings they suggest steps to make churches more welcoming, inclusive, and empowering for old people - something, they assert, people of all age groups would benefit from.
Critically questioning whether mainstream scientific perceptions of and approaches to aging do good in neglecting cultural and especially religious factors, Peter van Eeuwijk focuses on the regulative, integrative, and interpretive influence of religion and spirituality and the respective practices on aging and elderly people's health. Accordingly, he presents insights from two case studies he conducted in Indonesia and Tanzania and underlines that "the belief in God, Allah, or Buddha represents meaningful 'explanatory models' for the elderly in Indonesia and Tanzania when they reflect good health, longevity, frailty, chronification of disease, changes in their body and mind, and pain and/or disability with regard to the aging process and old age." Prayer here is one mode of care among others. Van Eeuwijk then discusses the 'social body' of old people and the interwovenness of faith, individual behavior and lifestyle, and the societal (e.g., gender) norms ambiguously affecting inter- as well as intragenerational care in families (and beyond); care is both an interrelational social practice as well as a relational religious doing. In a third step, van Eeuwijk examines the under-researched role of faith-based organizations in social welfare for older persons and highlights their importance both for the provision of complimentary care structures as well as for the social life of elderly people, including their leisure activities.
Following on from these broad range of approaches to aging we put Ralph Kunz's article first in the second part of the book. He is likewise interested in the ambiguities of aging and introduces us to two very different people, Martha and Bob. He argues that adding a religious perspective does not mean having an easy assessment instrument, but rather calls for a comparative-critical approach that implies listening to these and other people and their religious stances between devoted church going and anti-aging campaigning. Yet, as a theologian, Kunz does not stop here, but brings into play the Christian particular universal claims and hence testimony of God in narrative form showcasing the story of Adam, Eve, and the snake and its implications for our...