This is a terrific book. I've read just about all the other popular books on the connections between spirituality and health (by Koenig, Matthews, Dossey, Siegel, Chopra, Benor, and all the rest) and this is by FAR the most level-headed and scientifically grounded. It seems that everyone writing on this topic is either a conservative religious M.D. or some kind of new age follower. Levin is neither. He's a credible, methodologically skilled scientist who actually did much of the original research he summarizes. I've heard him talk--he's excellent--and this book, like his lectures, focuses on the how & why of a spirituality-health connection. He comprehensively outlines all the possible ways that faith may be connected to health--through effects on behavior, social relationships, emotions, beliefs, etc. He even raises the possibility of some things that a lot of scientists might consider unproven (subtle energies, nonlocality, psi, the supernatural), but he is careful and guarded with his tone and, throughout the book, meticulous with his citations. He always considers both sides of the issue and never overstates things. Plus the book is marvelously readable. When was the last time you could say that about an epidemiologist? Very highly recommended to both science types and laypeople. This guy is ready for the big time.
This is a great book! It pulls together the unbelievably huge amount of scientific research that shows a strong connection between spiritual practices and beliefs and having better health. Levin also shares personal stories of people who have seen changes -- sometimes big changes -- in their lives and health that are linked to prayer and other spiritual practices. One of the most interesting things he finds is that, in terms of health benefits, it really doesn't seem to matter which religious path is followed. The important thing just seems to be that a person connects with God or a religious tradition or a spiritual path of some type. Levin describes health benefits documented in many groups, including Yogis and Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, and Jews. In general, God seems to be good for us, no matter what we perceive God to be. Why would religion or faith in God be good for health? The book describes all kinds of reasons--from religious people not smoking and drinking to benefits from being in a supportive social group. But the most amazing thing is that these "expected" kinds of explanations for why faith is good for you don't seem to explain the whole picture. Even after these "normal" explanations are taken into account, Levin says that additional benefits of spirituality may come from something beyond what can be measured in scientific studies. That is, the health benefits of connecting to a higher power could have a more "supernatural" explanation. Whatever you believe about the subject, the book makes a powerful case for the importance of spirit in health.
I was hoping for a more scientific book for researching health and faith. This is OK but goes pretty light on the science. A better book, I think, is called Sprituality, Theology and Psychology (maybe not in that order). It ties the three together nicely.