Benefits of a community
A recent article reported on a study that revealed the
“uplifting effects of religion” ( June-July issue). But, the same
positive effects of group membership apply to joining any
respected community. That is one reason why people with
depression are encouraged to join support groups. The
regulation of emotions is mitigated by joining a group, and
the “uplifting” can be of short or long-term duration.
Dr. Hill is a medical sociologist and adult educator, retired from teaching at Lakehead University.
10 / www.universityaffairs.ca / June-July 2013
The uplifting effects of religion
does religious attendance protect against
depression? That was the tantalizing
of Saskatchewan researchers Marilyn Baetz,
Lloyd Balbuena and Rudy Bowen published
in the April issue
of the Canadian
Journal of Psychiatry. Key among
their findings was
that people who
attended religious services at least once
monthly had a 22 percent lower incidence of
clinical depression compared with those who
The researchers dre w on data from the
National Population Health Survey, which
tracked more than 12,000 Canadians from
1994 to 2008. “Individuals were surveyed
every t wo years and changes in depression,
health and religion were monitored,” says
Dr. Baetz, head of the university’s department of psychiatry.
While the researchers did not differentiate between different faiths, in the baseline
year, about 80 percent of people were from
Christian denominations. The researchers
controlled for the social support that religious attendance provided people and found
that there was still an impact beyond that.
“Certainly, the element of ‘community’
is important,” Dr. Baetz says, but adds, “The
ability to reframe life’s difficulties and give
meaning to suffering are important pieces as
well that religion can provide. We think that
there may be an element of emotion regulation that occurs from regular attendance.
And with enhanced ability to regulate emotions, there may be less chaos in one’s life or
a better opportunity to deal with stressors.”
The study also found that those who
called themselves spiritual but did not attend religious service did not experience any
Dr. Baetz’s research in the area of spirituality and mental health began during her
psychiatry residency; she worked with a
psychiatrist who was interested by his patients who were religious and fearful of being involved in the psychiatric system. “We
discovered that very little research was done
regarding the relationship of religion to psychiatric illness,” she says.
In the future, Dr. Baetz says, “We would
like to specifically look at whether religious
attendance or spirituality can impact the
ability to regulate our emotions, and if this
might be one of the mechanisms by which
there is an improvement in depression outcomes.” – sharon hunt
A shocking studyrevisited
it was one of the most notorious series
of experiments ever conducted: in a study
on obedience to authority by Yale University
psychologist Stanley Milgram, participants
were told to give increasingly painful
shocks to another study participant when
the latter answered a question incorrectly.
The “punished” participant could be heard
screaming in a room next door as the shock
intensity mounted, while those administering
the shocks often pleaded with the study
leader to stop the experiment. But it was all a
ruse to see how far participants would go in
obeying the authority figure – no shocks were
This summer at Nipissing University,
researchers and scholars will revisit and re-evaluatethefamousMilgramexperiments.
koka campus plays host to the 2013 Obedience to Authority Conference: Milgram’s
Experiments 50 Years On (Dr. Milgram
first described his research in 1963 in an
article published in the Journal of Abnormal
and Social Psychology). The conference will
feature many influential Milgram scholars
from around the world. Visit the conference
website, www.obediencetoauthority.com, for
more information. – léo charbonneau
“The ability to reframe life’s
difficulties and give meaning to suffering are important pieces that religion
Actor Alan Alda, quoted in the Chronicle of Higher Education,
April 20. Mr. Alda has had a long interest in communicating science
to the public.
The way universities teach scientists
to communicate with the public is akin to
preparing a novice pianist to play at
Carnegie Hall by offering a bit of advice just
days before the concert.
Who would be left to teach?
as a teacher of large undergraduate courses in
English to students who are anglophones, francophones and “allophones,” I share some of the
authors’ concerns in their opinion piece, “
Internationalizing the Canadian campus” (
August-September issue). As many universities increasingly accept students with mediocre or even poor
academic records and encourage international
enrolments, and as the linguistic and ethnic composition of Canadian society shifts, we face challenges in delivering postsecondary education.
However, the authors conflate “unprepared,”
lacking “common cultural and historical understanding ,” who “don’t speak English well,” “
foreign students,” “ESL students,” “don't understand
the Canadian academic context” and “struggling
with reading comprehension and basic vocabulary.” If we were to restrict entry to Canadian
universities (leaving out francophone universities, as the authors have done) according to all
those features, who would be left to teach? And
how many of us would want to teach in a university that was so exclusionary? And what about
those of us teachers who, along with their students, are also struggling to teach in English (or
French) or may come from another cultural
Restricting the admission of ESL students to
universities (assuming this was legally possible
and morally acceptable) wouldn’t significantly
address all of our teaching challenges because
many native English-speaking students exhibit
the same difficulties. I would prefer to see a
greater emphasis on assessing and improving
language proficiency in English, French and
even non-official languages.
Dr. Townsend is an associate professor in the department of
geography, planning and environment in the faculty of arts and
science at Concordia University.
Federal restrictions hurt faculty recruitment, too
regarding the article, “University staff face
new restrictions on how they advise foreign students” (August-September issue), it is true that
the impact on the students is huge. But don’t
forget the other side – the impact of this legislation is also an issue for foreign faculty.
Universities are facing increased scrutiny
when applying to Citizen and Immigration Canada for labour market opinions, or LMOs, to hire
non-Canadian faculty. Then, should the LMO be
approved, university staff are unable to assist the
incoming faculty member with the majority of
their immigration questions. For existing faculty
on work permits, staff can no longer provide
advice regarding permanent residency options.
This is becoming a major issue for all of us
who deal with international faculty recruitment.
These new restrictions, combined with the rule
changes around issuing LMOs and the backlog
in processing work permit and permanent residency applications due to the current work stoppage by Canada’s foreign-service officers, is very
frustrating for those of us who work at the universities as well as for the faculty we are trying
Ms. Collier is manager of the office of faculty relations in the
faculty of health sciences at McMaster University.
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