Rice sociologist available to discuss how the religious will ‘gather’ on holidays amid COVID-19


Jeff Falk

Amy McCaig

Rice sociologist available to discuss how the religious will ‘gather’ on holidays amid COVID-19

HOUSTON – (April 2, 2020) – Easter, Ramadan and Passover are among the most important religious holidays for Christians, Muslims and Jews, respectively, but what happens when places of worship are closed and the faithful are forced to stay home because of a global pandemic?

Elaine Howard Ecklund, the Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences, professor in sociology and director of Rice’s Religion and Public Life Program, studies the intersection of science and religion. She is available to discuss how religious organizations might observe holidays during the COVID-19 outbreak, why science and religion need each other now more than ever and how religious scientists can step up and help educate religious peers about the disease.

Ecklund has recently written about religion in the time of COVID-19 for Time and Christianity Today. She said this is a time of year when the faithful, even those who do not regularly attend services, visit churches, synagogues and mosques. The Christian Holy Week begins April 5, Passover begins April 8 and Ramadan begins April 23.

Ecklund has studied how people view their houses of worship as a place of social support, particularly during trying times. Some congregations are citing the Constitution to push back against government-mandated closings.

“People really feel challenged, especially when they are under extraordinary stress, that they can’t be part of their congregations,” she said. “A lot of them get emotional comfort from being part of these groups and being with the other people from their congregation. And for some people, congregations provide economic benefit — whether these organizations are supporting members during struggling times or providing job networking opportunities — so it’s a real challenge when this is all taken away. This doesn’t mean that religious organizations should not close their doors, but it does mean that public health experts need to understand all the reasons it’s challenging for them to do so.

“It’s also important to know that not all congregations are created equal,” Ecklund said. “For a lot of religious organizations, it’s not as simple as just flipping a switch and going online. Not all congregations are capable of taking services online, and not all members have online access, especially the poor and the elderly.”

Ecklund said “undoubtedly, the best way to flatten the curve of this virus is to follow the advice of public health officials to not gather in public.” But she believes officials will increase their ability to convince religious institutions to close if they understand the enormous push for them to remain open.

She also noted that religious scientists have an especially important role in explaining how COVID-19 is spread and the dangers of gathering in public.

“Some of my previous research shows that individuals who are scientists or doctors and are also persons of faith are more trusted by fellow congregants or even other churches or other religious organizations outside of their own when compared to their nonreligious scientists or doctors,” Ecklund said. “At this time, I think it is more important than ever for these individuals to take on this public role for their own and other congregations. And if they know of a congregation that doesn’t have those public health, medical or scientific experts, they can play an especially important and potentially life-saving role at this time, even through online outreach or another form of digital communication.”

To schedule an interview with Ecklund, contact Amy McCaig, senior media relations specialist at Rice, at 217-417-2901 or amym@rice.edu.


This news release can be found online at news.rice.edu.

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Elaine Howard Ecklund website: http://www.elainehowardecklund.com/

Photo link: https://news.rice.edu/files/2020/04/ehe-headshot-1.jpg

Photo credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

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About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.