Doctors, clerics, healers, and neighbors : religious influences on maternal and child health in Uzbekistan



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A growing body of literature links religion to a variety of beneficial health outcomes, but many aspects of the influence of religion on health attitudes and behaviors remain uninvestigated. Most existing work linking religion to health focuses on the United States and other Western contexts, and examinations of reproductive, maternal, and child health are notably absent from research seeking to clarify the relationships between religion and health. This dissertation explores the influences of religious beliefs and behaviors on reproductive, maternal, and child health in Uzbekistan, a theoretically and practically useful context for this study. In this project, I seek to enhance understandings of connections between religion and health by incorporating insights from demographic literature on religion and reproduction and from the body of work on the religion-health connection. In order to answer questions about overall associations between religion and reproductive, maternal, and child health as well as questions about the specific pathways through which religion comes to affect health, I draw on both quantitative and qualitative analyses. I conduct quantitative analysis using secondary survey data collected in 1996 and 2002 in order to address questions related to patterns in the observable relationships between religious affiliation and aspects of reproductive, maternal, and child health in Uzbekistan. To answer questions about mechanisms of religious influence, I turn to qualitative data (observation, focus groups, and in-depth interviews) collected over an 11 month period in two locations (urban and rural) in Uzbekistan. The findings indicate that religion constitutes an important influence on women’s and men’s decisions relating to multiple aspects of reproductive, maternal, and child health in the Uzbek context. The effects of religious beliefs and behaviors on these decisions have the potential to be both beneficial and detrimental to health outcomes, often operating through ideas about gender and familial roles, attitudes about health care utilization, and conceptions of health as a factor of overriding religious importance. The findings are relevant for assessing the utility of previously hypothesized mechanisms linking religion to health and reproduction and suggest several new directions for theorizing about these connections.