Alternative Palliative Care

Barbara Zeugin, Mercator Award Winner 2019

When the end of life approaches, not only the dying themselves, but also their relatives and caregivers are confronted with special challenges. Modern palliative care also integrates spiritual aspects, so-called spiritual care. In Switzerland, it is often taken over by church pastors. Today, however, fewer and fewer people belong to a church, and alternative religious practices such as meditation are enjoying increasing popularity.

The starting point for Barbara Zeugin's dissertation is examining the effect of the change in religious and spiritual attitudes towards the end of life. The scholar of religious studies researched what a churchless, but nevertheless religious accompaniment to death looks like in concrete terms. Her qualitative social science research was based on participatory observation and numerous interviews with patients and specialists at a hospice and an anthroposophic hospital. She pointed out that alternative-religious accompaniment goes far beyond the common understanding of spiritual care.

Therapists support the "letting go" of the dying physically and metaphysically with physiotherapy and breathing therapy or rhythmic massage. Since body-oriented therapies often only have an implicit religious reference, they can be connected to a wide variety of worldviews. According to Barbara Zeugin: "Since the majority of alternative-religious practices are body-oriented, alternative care for the dying lacks conversation-oriented religious support".

For her work, the religious scholar was awarded the Mercator Award in the area of Arts and Social Science.