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A Pandemics Guide to Disrupting Religion

By Emma Brashear '23

Religion is one of the most important aspects of many people’s lives, with about 73
percent of the world’s population holding some religious belief (Pew Research Center). One
essential aspect for members of almost all religions is coming together as a community to
celebrate the fundamental beliefs of that religion. However, throughout the pandemic, almost all
gatherings, including those with the purpose of religious practice, came to a halt for everyone’s
safety. So, the question remains, how did this impact different religious groups and their
practices?


The most obvious way that COVID affected religious groups was through spread of the
virus during religious gatherings held despite the pandemic. In South Korea, more than half of
the COVID cases at the time were attributed to a single religious meeting held by the Shincheonji
Church of Jesus. Another example was in Malayai, where hundreds of people contracted the
virus after attending a service in a mosque. Something similar happened in Washington, D.C.,
where many people came down with the virus after taking Holy Communion. These examples
show how common religious practices can have negative health outcomes through contraction
of the COVID virus (Robinson).


Another factor that impacted religious groups was the separation of people from their
place of worship. Because most places of worship decided to close for the safety of the
gatherers, many religious services were held online. Because of a lack of knowledge of
technology, the technical difficulties they encountered, and significant changes in services,
many people quit going to their places of worship altogether. This, in combination with the
already depressing times during the pandemic, led to a significant decrease in attendance at
church services as well as a decrease in donations to religious places (Chow). These negative
effects on religious congregations from the pandemic were widespread across religions and
around the world.

 

Although the different effects are evident among different religious groups, how do
certain religions prioritize health within their beliefs and religious practices? One fact to consider
when answering this question is that religious beliefs are so individualized. This played a huge
role in the mask debate when limited religious gatherings were allowed. Some people believed
that it was blasphemous to wear a mask because it would show a lack of faith in their religion.
Others believed that masks were essential to prevent the spread of COVID, regardless of the
depth of their faith.
         

Another important factor in the way in which COVID affected religious beliefs and
practices is that, in many religions, the beliefs carry more weight than anything a medical
professional might say (Rumun). Because decisions of this kind are based on individual
religious beliefs, no one medical choice can be linked directly to a certain religion. Both mask
and medical choices are influenced by certain religious beliefs, which can sometimes lead to
more negative health consequences.

         

In addition to COVID’s being a disheartening time for everyone around the globe, religious
organizations experienced a decrease in interest in religious services and a loss of income, and
had to contend with the controversy surrounding masks and faith. So, this was a trying time for
people of all religious affiliations. Each individual’s personal relationship with church and faith
had a large impact on his or her health and wellbeing during the pandemic.