Religion as Social Determinant of Health Behavior (OsloMet)

Project background

Since the mid-20th century, the understanding of behavior underpinning illness and mortality has been growing and now it is regarded as one of the major components of health. However, the reductionist focus on health behavior as an outcome of an individual responsibility and agency has been increasingly challenged by a sociological approach to health behavior, which emphasizes the need to acknowledge the specifics of context and complex structural issues that determine what people do and why.

From this perspective, any health behavior socially regarded as wrong or harmful should be deconstructed and seen not merely as an individually held beliefs but rather placed into a broader context of social discourses unveiling the ways in which people interact with social others and reconfigure their choices in relation to others.

Neither the final report of the Commission on Social Determinants of Health, which was set up by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2005, nor later versions include religion in the list of the determinants.

Reading through media and often public health reports, religion’s impact on health issues is seen as mostly detrimental and usually associated with discrimination or violence against minority groups or a basis for various prejudices, referring to religion’s antiquated nature.

There is evidence that religion can significantly influence major attitudes and be a protective factor in preventing risky health behavior, provide profound meanings when confronted with life-threatening events. For migrant communities, religion has been found an important ‘cultural capital’ they are bringing with them in the search for new ways of belonging and a source of psychological, social, and spiritual coping and support in all stages of immigration.

However, religious beliefs may also emphasize negative perceptions about reality exacerbating already existing stress and anxiety and be an important causal factor in vaccine hesitancy and observance of all the health authorities’ recommendations.

About the project

The purpose of the project is to broaden a vision of religion as an important social determinant, both positive and negative, of population health, especially in connection with migrant populations, and include religion into the discussion on complex interacting influences that affect people’s health behaviour.

Possible thesis questions

  • Role of religious beliefs in vaccine hesitancy among migrants in Norway during COVID-19 pandemic
  • Religious communities and their attitudes to Norwegian health care system
  • Who knows best: your grandma or a Norwegian doctor? Trust to Norwegian healthcare among migrant populations


All the questions require work with empirical data either already gathered (e.g., there is data on access to vaccination during COVID-19 pandemic among migrants) or which needs to be collected. It can be both quantitative and qualitative research.

Relevant for which study options

International Social Welfare and Health Policy

The project can accept up to 3 students.

Possible supervisors / co-supervisors

Prof. Torkel Brekke, Head of Diversity Studies Centre Oslo (DISCO) at OsloMet. He has a PhD in Oriental Studies from the University of Oxford. Primary research interest on religion, politics and conflict with South Asia and the Nordic countries as the main focus. Research projects on prejudice against Jews and Muslims. Affiliated with Centre for Research on Extremism (C-REX) at the University of Oslo.

Prof. Svenn-Erik Mamelund, head of the Centre for Research on Pandemics & Society (PANSOC) at OsloMet and the President of Norwegian Demographic Society. He has a PhD in demography 23 years experience in studying the demography of epidemic diseases with a particular focus on the 1918-20 influenza pandemic. Mamelund is a leading expert in pandemic research. He held presentations at UN Population Division Expert Group Meeting on the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Fertility, 2021; ECDC (2018) and WHO (2019) Expert Meetings on Non-Pharmaceutical Countermeasures for Pandemic Flu in Stockholm and Hong-Kong.

Dr. Alexandra (Sasha) Blinkova is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for In 2018, she successfully defended her PhD thesis on Religious Education in Russia and the European Union: Comparative Analysis at the department of philosophy of religion and religious studies, Saint Petersburg State University, Russia. Her primary research interests include religion in education with a focus on ideology, values, and identity formation, religion as a social determinant of health behaviour, and Orthodox Christianity as migrant religion.

Contact person

Alexandra Blinkova

Legg igjen en kommentar

Din e-postadresse vil ikke bli publisert. Obligatoriske felt er merket med *