Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

Nursing

Supervisor

Dr. Beverly D. Leipert

Abstract

Many rural health resources are linked to community churches, which are often well attended, especially by rural women. Thus, the rural church may be an effective health resource for rural Canadian women who have compromised access to health resources. Despite the significant role that the rural church plays in the life of rural communities, there is very limited research that addresses how the church acts or could act as a health resource for rural women. Furthermore, there is limited understanding of how the church as a place may influence health promotion in rural communities. This dissertation explores the relevance of the Christian church in promoting the health of rural Canadian women as both experiential and place-based phenomena.

Interpretive phenomenology and the photovoice method were used to understand how the church influenced health promotion for rural women. Twenty-two women in five rural southwestern Ontario communities took pictures, documented in logbooks, and participated in group sessions as a means of data collection and generation. Phenomenological and participatory data analysis suggested that the rural church significantly facilitated rural women’s health promotion. The church supported the physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual health of rural women, facilitated social connectedness, and provided healthful opportunities to give and to receive. Furthermore, the church as a place was realized through three broad discourses: an intersection of physical and geographic environments, a gateway to experiential attachment and personal meaning, and as a connection to shared culture and beliefs.

Findings suggest that individual and collective health can be promoted with access to social structures and relationships stemming from the rural church. The church and rural women’s health promotion, however, cannot be studied in isolation for they exist within broader socioeconomic and political climates. As the church can be a supportive facilitator for rural capacity, exploring how intersectional categories shape or hinder relationships among individuals would help to better inform how the church might act as a resource towards promoting healthy communities. Furthermore, recognizing the personal meaning and shared cultures, including spatial and religious cultures embedded within places, may assist religious communities and health-care providers to promote access to religious spaces for health promotion purposes. In rural communities, parish, community, and public nurses have an increasingly important responsibility to examine how churches can shape experiences of health and of healing in addition to expressions of nursing care. Implications included reframing religious places as health promoting and socially inclusive places for rural women.


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