Contrary to popular belief, young people who are diagnosed with life-threatening cancer and do not already have religious beliefs, do not turn to religion during this hard time. However, the happenings may solidify the beliefs they already had, according to researchers from the University of Copenhagen.

Nadja Ausker commented:

“My research shows that young cancer patients’ views on existential issues show consistency before and after the diagnosis: Their faith and their religious practices remain the same. However, the beliefs they already had can be confirmed and strengthened – this applies both to religion and science – so the patients may feel more strongly for the beliefs they had before they were diagnosed.”

It is well-known that significant religious conversions are often made after or during a person experiences a crisis, usually because an individual’s thoughts toward religion change when something extremely life-altering happens, such as being diagnosed with cancer.

Nadja Ausker’s thesis “Time for a change? Negotiations of religious continuity, change, and consumption among Danish cancer patients” tests this theory by questioning 21 young cancer patients about whether their religious beliefs changed after being diagnosed with cancer, as well as while they were being treated.

Ausker’s thesis was a joint effort between Rigshospitalet, the largest Danish hospital, and the University of Copenhagen. The theories discussed in the paper are those derived from 21 cancer patients’ 40 different interviews conducted 1 to 6 months and 12 to 18 months after the diagnosis. All of the patients were diagnoses with leukemia or lymphoma and were under the age of 40.

According to Ausker, being diagnosed with cancer does not make people stop believing in their religion or atheists to start believing.

She continued:

“The cancer patients do contemplate existential issues, but that does not mean that they suddenly start praying or going to church is these religious practices were not already part of their lives. Several patients said it would be hypocritical of them to change practice and faith because of the diagnosis.”

Therefore, when the patients are sick, they engage in religious activity, but do not practice new beliefs.

The study reports that for the patients who are religious find religious assets important, just as other patients look to medication as an important part of their recovery and treatment. Ausker said that these patients become “consumers” of “religious goods”, which they use immediately, including going to church or saying a prayer.

Written by Christine Kearney