CCCU team researches life after cancer

Council funds Elizabeth Hall to research the spiritual effects cancer has on believers.



Daisy Gonzalez, Writer

The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities gave psychology professor Elizabeth Lewis Hall an $18,000 grant to spearhead research studies on Christians who have had cancer.

Hall will work alongside Jamie Aten, associate professor of psychology at Wheaton College, Eric Silverman, associate professor of philosophy and religious studies at Christopher Newport University, and Jason McMartin, associate professor of theology at Biola University. They will research how myriad Christians face and interpret personal disasters, focusing primarily on Christian cancer survivors.

After speaking about suffering at The Holy Spirit and Christian Formation Conference in November 2013, Diane Chandler from Regent University asked Hall to write a chapter on her lecture. One month later, Hall was diagnosed with breast cancer. She journaled her experience as she underwent treatments for a year. Hall then submitted a proposal to the CCCU, who selected her study for funding.

The study focuses on the growth that takes place through suffering and how it builds meaning in a person’s life.

“Core to the theory is the notion that growth largely results because of the meaning-making that occurs during the suffering. The way that you’re put together, the pieces of what you believe about the world, about God, about yourself and the fact that you have this suffering that’s been thrown in your life. How do you reconcile those?” Hall said.

In contribution to the project, Aten, a former cancer patient, combines his expertise in suffering after a natural disaster with his experience in suffering through personal disaster.

“One of the areas that I’ve tried to bring to them has been help with some of the conceptualizing of the experience of cancer survivors… as well as my primary focus of research, which is on the psychology of religion and spirituality in disasters” said Aten in a phone interview.

The team has interviewed 30 patients and is now looking at the initial impact of natural disaster survivors. Subsequently, they will compare those results to cancer survivors’ experiences. Currently, there is no end date set for the completion of the research.

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