Visser Dissertation Defense

Mission Hall 2105

“How Connected is this Heart?”:  

The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Women of Color with Heart Disease 

Megan Visser, MA

Monday, May 23- 1:00 PM

Mission Hall 2105

(Mission Bay Campus: 550 16th St.)

or via Zoom


For Women of Color who are dealing with chronic conditions, such as heart disease, religion/spirituality is both a health resource and an important facet of daily life. Since nearly one in five female deaths in the US is caused by heart disease, it is important to understand how Women of Color cope with their illness using religious/spiritual resources (CDC, 2020). In this dissertation, I present an interpretive account of how religion/spirituality was embedded in the lives of Women of Color with heart disease. Led by a person-centered research design in the interpretive phenomenological tradition, participants and I explored together how their religion/spirituality and illness experience shaped one another and changed over time. Women of Color with heart disease used religious/spiritual beliefs, practices, and community support to deal with a variety of life circumstances, ranging from health crises to everyday stresses in the progression of their illness. My interpretation of individual whole cases revealed patterned ways of being connected to women’s embodied realities and lifeworlds. These patterns demonstrated important turning points in Women of Color’s important supportive relationships, access to affordable health care, and responses to traumatic medical incidents, among other shifts along their illness trajectory. Also, because I began this research approximately one year into the US COVID-19 pandemic, my research findings also shine a light on the ways in which the pandemic disrupted the religious/spiritual and care practices of Women of Color with heart disease. Religion, sociology, and medicine have long debated the influences of religious/spiritual beliefs, practices, and community involvement on a person’s health. In this dissertation, I propose that the complexity of the bidirectional relationship between religion/spirituality and health in the lives of Women of Color with chronic conditions can be addressed by understanding their lived experiences on their own terms.   


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