Author

Yuk Ha WONG

Date of Award

2010

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Philosophy (MPHIL)

Department

Sociology and Social Policy

First Advisor

Prof. David R. PHILLIPS

Second Advisor

Prof. SIU Oi-ling

Abstract

The life expectancy of Chinese people in Hong Kong is increasing and is amongst the longest in the world. However, many people, especially older persons may experience chronic ill-health and, less detectable, many may also be experiencing alienation, loneliness, meaninglessness and fear of death. Spirituality and spiritual care, which focus on the healing of the soul and quest for meaning, are important to many people as they age and face the prospect of death, and therefore they may have existential anxieties. A holistic healthcare approach, which views humans as bio-psycho-social-spiritual beings, stresses the importance of spirituality to people’s health and the well-being. However, there is a lack of consensus on the definition/conceptualisation of spirituality in the social gerontology literature. Further, many concepts such as spirituality and religiosity (one important channel of spiritual experiences) may be unclear or ambiguous. Relatively few international studies focus on ageing, spirituality and religiosity in gerontology and very few have been conducted in Hong Kong. This study therefore investigates the concept of spirituality in Hong Kong, in a Chinese context, and explores spiritual experiences and histories among older persons. It attempts to examine how religiosity may inspire spirituality.

This research was based on triangulation of various data sources including a wide review of the academic and professional literature, interviews with key informants (social work, academic and religious experts), and the collection and analysis of qualitative data. The qualitative data are drawn from three focus group discussions involving three categories, the San Jiao triad, Christianity, and a non-religious group, with a total of sixteen participants; and three individual interviews. The focus group respondents were recruited from a Christian church and a Buddhist elderly home.

This research yielded a number of findings. The focus group discussions corroborate suggestions in the literature that spirituality is interpreted differently by individuals, and it does not only apply to religious persons but to every individual. Spirituality can be related to religion, selfless service, the quality of personhood and the universe; For older persons, a “fractured” relationship with their family and others is often a core factor causing spiritual distress that the individual is unable to invest life with meaning; and religiosity (belief in a god, prayer, reciting religious scriptures, etc.) may inspire different dimensions of spirituality among older persons. The main conclusions drawn from this research were that spirituality is important to older persons regardless of their religious affiliations; it could cater to spiritual needs and experiences among older persons who can help to address spiritual distress throughout the spiritual history. Further, spiritual assessment is central to addressing spiritual needs and spiritual tasks associated with ageing, hence contributing to the need for spiritual care and spiritual narrative to older persons. This dissertation recommends that the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of health should emphasize the spiritual dimension. Finally, the dissertation highlights the spiritual concerns in elderly services and recommends caregivers recognize spirituality and provide spiritual care to older persons.

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