Could COVID-19 inspire the faithful? Scholars predict spirituality surge in our future

Alfred Lubrano, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Religious News

During the Black Death, which originated in Asia and terrorized Europe from 1347 to 1352, artists captured the macabre zeitgeist with depictions of mocking skeletons wielding scythes and leading townsfolk to their painful deaths.

Between 25 million and 30 million people perished, and, historians say, the medieval mind blamed the plague's boils and fevers on God's failure to hear the prayers of the doomed -- not, as it turned out, on fleas infected by rats. The devastation drained the faithful of faith.

No such drama will follow the current pandemic, scholars predict. In fact, many believe we will witness a resurgence in religion when the coronavirus either eases or ends.

"This pandemic is making everyone acutely aware of the fragility of life," said Greg Sterling, dean of Yale Divinity School and an expert on the New Testament and ancient Judaism. "We all know attendance had been falling in churches before, but people are spiritual, and I think the need to connect to God may be greater after this is over."

Coinciding with the coronavirus are other factors -- economic crisis, police brutality, racial inequality -- that make the country "far more open to change," Sterling continued. "I think all these things mean a great deal to people and influence their sense of spirituality."

Being forced to reckon with death on a massive scale compels Americans to wonder why they're here, what purpose their lives hold, suggested Serene Jones, the president of Union Theological Seminary in New York City.


"People ask, 'What does it mean to live a good life and be good to people?' These are deeply religious questions, and will have a profound impact on the spiritual sensibilities of an entire nation."

Even as a life-ending plague burns through the United States, Americans are moving closer to God.

A Pew Research Center poll shows that while 2% of those surveyed say the coronavirus has weakened their faith, 25% declare the virus has deepened it. According to Gallup, 3% say their faith has "gotten worse"; 19% say it's "gotten better."

And among African Americans, who, like Latinx people, have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic, 41% say their faith has grown stronger, compared with 30% of Latinx Americans, and 20% of whites, Pew reports.


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