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Spiritual Care

The Everyday Work of Chaplains

Wendy Cadge

Publication Date - 29 November 2022

ISBN: 9780197647820

256 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches

In Stock


Chaplains are America's hidden religious leaders. Required in the military, federal prisons, and Veterans Administration Medical Centers, chaplains also work in two-thirds of hospitals, most hospices, many institutions of higher education, and a growing range of other settings. The chaplains of the U.S. House and Senate regularly engage with national leaders through public prayer and private conversation. Chaplains have been present at national protests, including the racial justice protests that took place across the country in 2020. A national survey conducted in the United States in 2019 found that 21% of the Americans public had contact with a chaplain in the prior two years. Contact with chaplains likely increased with the COVID-19 pandemic, which thrust chaplains into the spotlight, as they cared for patients, family members, and exhausted and traumatized medical staff fighting the pandemic in real time.

Wendy Cadge steps back to ask who chaplains are, what they do across the United States, how that work is connected to the settings where they do it, and how they have responded to and helped to shape contemporary shifts in the American religious landscape. She focuses on Boston as a case study to show how chaplains have been, and remain, an important part of institutional religious ecologies, both locally and nationally. She has combed through the archives of major Boston institutions including the city government, police and fire department, hospitals, universities, rest and rehabilitation centers, the Catholic church, and several Protestant denominations, as well as the Boston Globe, to chart the work of chaplains historically. Cadge also interviewed over one hundred chaplains who work in greater Boston and shadowed them whenever possible, going on board container ships, walking through homeless shelters, and attending religious services at local prisons. The result is a rich study of a little-noticed but essential group of religious leaders.


  • Shows how local religious life--congregations, theological schools, other religious leaders--shapes the work of chaplains
  • Draws on previously unpublished interviews and a range of unique archival materials not previously analyzed
  • Demonstrates the similarities and differences among chaplains working in a range of settings

About the Author(s)

Wendy Cadge is the Barbara Mandel Professor of Humanistic Social Sciences and Professor of Sociology at Brandeis University. She is the author of two books, Paging God: Religion in the Halls of Medicine and Heartwood: The First Generation of Theravada Buddhism in America, and the founder of the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab.


"This book provides terrific insights into the world of chaplains. It is beautifully written and a joy to read." -- Rev. Elizabeth B. Dickey, Presbyterian Outlook

"Wendy Cadge's book is exhilarating. Spiritual Care is essential reading for anyone who cares about the spiritual well-being of society and of each individual who needs care." -- Rabbi Mychal B. Springer, Manager of Clinical Pastoral Education, New York-Presbyterian Hospital

"Chaplains largely have been overlooked in the study of American religion. This ground-breaking book changes that. Always informative and sometimes moving, Spiritual Care is a must-read for anyone interested in religious work and those who do it." -- Mark Chaves, Anne Firor Scott Distinguished Professor of Sociology, Duke University

Table of Contents


    Chapter 1. Introductions
    Chapter 2. Chaplaincy in Greater Boston: A Short Historical Overview
    Chapter 3. Becoming a Chaplain
    Chapter 4. Brokers With(out) Authority? The Improvisational Work of Chaplains
    Chapter 5. The Value Added of Holding the Space
    Chapter 6. Brokering Deaths: Chaplains as Midwives and Escorts
    Chapter 7. Engaging Religious and Spiritual Differences: Organizational and Individual
    Chapter 8. Conclusions Can Be Beginnings

    Appendix. Initial Glimpses and Focused Attention A Methodological Approach at Mid-Life