Forging Interdisciplinary Collaboration between Religion and Public Health in Africa
Health crises such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa have given great impetus to interdisciplinary research and collaboration. Recently, there has also been an increase in recognition that religious entities are important in achieving the scale and scope of intervention that is necessary to cope with contemporary global health challenges – although it is acknowledged that not enough is known to guide decision-making and action. This has led to increased intersectoral partnerships and increased interdisciplinary research collaboration. However, whether on the ground or in academia, collaboration between religious studies and the public health sciences is not without its impediments and is frequently hindered by differences in perspectives, methods, and personalities. This presentation discusses a program that has positioned itself at this interface between religion and public health. Formed in 2002, this program is an international collaboration utilizing a deliberately complex partnership model which aims to engender cooperative relationships and interdisciplinary research. At the core of this collaboration are academics of differing disciplines (health sciences, humanities and social sciences) from three South African universities and one American university. In addition, the collaboration includes a range of partners such as African grassroots community groups and global health institutions. This program not only emphasizes the relational aspects of interdisciplinary collaboration, but also advocates the development of interdisciplinary theory and shared discourse. Recent research completed for the World Health Organization in Lesotho and Zambia is one example of the application of an interdisciplinary framework that attempts to satisfy multiple audiences. This presentation will discuss some of the challenges and lessons learned from this real-world application of interdisciplinary efforts, and demonstrate strategies to develop and maintain such collaboration.
Keywords: Collaboration, Partnership, Religion, Faith, Public Health, Interdisciplinary Theory
Research Associate, African Religious Health Assets Programme