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Marie Demker

The discussion about the connection between culture and health can enrich the understanding of what constitutes a good society. This is emphasised by Marie Demker, professor of political science and leader of the research programme "Religion, Culture and Health".
– Within political science there is an established research area around how one establishes good governance. A host of quantitative analyses have shown that presence of inter-human faith and impartial institutions is important in order to attain good health care, a high life expectancy and educational level.
– At the same time new studies are providing more sophisticated analyses. An example is Sten-Åke Stenberg's in-depth investigation in Född 1953: Folkhemsbarn i forskarfokus (Born in 1953: Children of the People's Home In Research Focus) into the connection between health and home environment, conditions of upbringing and schooling respectively. Interestingly, Stenberg shows that the human being appears more durable vis-á-vis hard living conditions than was earlier assumed, while certain social and personal prerequisites appear harder to compensate for.

You are of the opinion that political scientists for too long have discussed factors pertaining to culture and health as though they were more or less universal and given by nature?
– There is every reason for today's researchers to critically reflect on their vantage points. For example, the fact that young people report increasing poor health is maybe not a self-evident trend. How do the respondents define health and well-being today compared to 1950? How are perceptions of well-being related to altered patterns in family, work and political participation? And what degree of individual deviation is tolerated today compared to the society of the past?
– I think the research within political science has taken too limited an interest in normative issues within the area of cultural connections, such as religion and family ties. It is important to focus on the fact that perceptions of good and poor health are culturally conditioned. The multicultural society really does consist of many cultures and there is a risk that the dominating groups' points of reference obscure or exclude other traditions.

Which perspectives do you yourself provide?
– My research revolves around the role of religion in the public sphere, as well as how the view of national and cultural community influences welfare in society.
– A basic question is whether a liberal society shall be encouraging or counteracting vis-á-vis religious custom. Another issue is whether the family's role and values concerning religion, culture and language take precedence over a norm promoted by the state. Such issues call for both philosophically oriented analyses around the role of the public sphere as well as empirical studies with national comparisons. It is also important to investigate the significance of religious conceptions of social participation and personal well-being. Even if it is well established that religious and cultural communities have a significance for the well-being of the individual, this does not mean that all such communities are necessarily beneficial to society as a whole.

Personal facts

Position: Professor.
Age: 54 years old.
Family: Yes, large.
Research interests: Societal change, political parties and ideas, political philosophy, French politics.
Driving force: Curiosity, responsibility, caring.
Leisure interests: Human culture in various forms.

[The interview was conducted by Daniel Brodén and was published 2015-02-05]

Contact Information

Centre for Culture and Health

Box 200, 405 30 Gothenburg, Sweden

Page Manager: Lovisa Aijmer|Last update: 2/16/2015
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