All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Jeffrey M Clair

Advisory Committee Members

William C Cockerham

Michael A Flannery

Michelle Y Martin

Mieke B Thomeer McBride

Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name by School

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) College of Arts and Sciences


The purpose of this dissertation is to examine how clergy define health and how they communicate health messages to their congregations and communities. Clergy are influential figures who fulfill a variety of roles outside of their unique pastoral responsibilities, including serving as a source of health-related information and resources. Little is known about how clergy perceive the role of churches and their own role in health and health ministry. In-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with 32 African American and white clergy members from a variety of religious denominations in Jefferson County, Alabama between January 2015 and February 2016. Data were coded and analyzed using grounded theory practices. In this study, clergy define health in holistic terms and emphasize the interaction between physical, mental, and spiritual domains. Participants reveal that their evolving definitions of health are influenced by individual characteristics and social context and are developed through social interaction and comparison. All participants assert that churches and clergy should be involved in health communication and promotion but such involvement by clergy varies. Clergy report several common strategies that are useful for sharing health messages with their constituents. African American and white participants express concerns about mental health and racial health disparities, albeit notable differences are observed in their responses to these issues. Clergy are clearly interested and involved in health communication and promotion in their congregations. Participants also indicate how best to involve clergy in health research and promotion efforts. Clergy identify essential elements of health ministries and partnerships with academic centers such as UAB. The research progressed from a qualitative study to a community-engaged project aimed at addressing the expressed needs of clergy and community stakeholders in terms of health information and resources. The development of an academic-faith community partnership called the Clergy Collaborative Health Network is discussed. This dissertation has implications for understanding the role of clergy in health and future community-engaged research with religious congregations. Findings suggest a model of clergy health communication and promotion that could guide future research and theory development. Clergy may increasingly find themselves in the role of communicating about health or responding to health concerns, especially in the context of changing congregations.



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