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Professional practices of spiritual care and empowerment in transitions of life - Place for four external PhD candidates

Chair group

Humanist chaplaincy studies for a plural society 

You can also have a look on the Dutch website.


Prof. dr. Gaby Jacobs

Humanist Chaplaincy Studies for a Plural Society 

Chair Humanist Chaplaincy studies for a Plural Society
Supervisors Prof. dr. Gaby Jacobs and assistant/associate professors

Field of Research:    Chaplaincy / spiritual care; and /or moral distress in professional work   

Spiritual care  is the professional guidance and counselling of persons, groups and organizations with questions regarding meaning in life and moral orientation. It is changing significantly in the wake of globalization and secularization, resulting in the fragmentation of traditional religions and the emergence of various sorts of new and independent forms of spirituality. Spiritual care is not limited to individual counselling and guidance, but increasingly focuses on support and education of professionals and leaders addressing moral and political issues within plural communities, organizations and society. The focus of this research topic is to develop insights into the current, transforming and new practices of spiritual care, especially within the domain of social care, primary care and home care. This may include narrative and embodied humanistic counselling methods and their unique value (outcomes) to individual persons, groups or organizations; the collaboration between different professions (interprofessional collaboration) in responding to the diverse existential, spiritual and moral needs of people in a swiftly changing world; as well as the learning involved in developing spiritual care practices amongst different disciplines. 

Meaning in life and meaning-making practices 

Meaning in life as a central concept in the UHS research program has been theorized by philosophers and psychologists mostly from a white-western, individualistic and cognitive perspective.  In this research topic we welcome PhD students to conduct research into meaning in life and existential needs of diverse groups in society (e.g. people with psychiatric problems, children, young asylum seekers, homeless people) and from a critical, relational and/or political perspective. This may include the sources of meaning these groups employ; their spiritual practices, including rituals; and the methodological challenges involved in conducting research on meaning in life in general, and with these special groups in particular. 

Moral injury and moral resilience within professional work [in collaboration with the chair group Citizenship and Humanisation of the Public Sector ] 

Professional work is under pressure. Freidson (2001) has argued that the spheres of management and consumers and the values related to these, are increasing and changing the professional work, resulting in less professional autonomy and the diminishing of value-based work. Research shows that moral distress and moral injury of professionals is a growing problem, resulting in demotivation, burnout and moral erosion of organizations. 

The focus of this research topic is on the moral resilience of professionals, in particular chaplains (spiritual care workers), health care workers, military personnel or police officers. Research may include the development and/or evaluation of moral education programs; of moral resilience interventions and personal, collective and organizational measures to foster moral resilience. The role of chaplaincy in addressing moral distress and strengthening moral resilience may be part of the research. 

Examples of research questions

• What does meaning in life entail from a diversity perspective and what instruments and methods are suitable in studying it?

• What is the role of embodiment in the spiritual care relationship and what does it possibly add to the existing conceptualization of narrative or presence approaches?  

• What interventions contribute to preventing moral distress of health care workers, both on an individual, group, organizational and societal level?

• What is chaplains' contribution to fostering moral resilience of healthcare workers / army veterans?  

Place for:

Three external PhD candidates

Contact and information

            Chair  Humanist Chaplaincy studies for a Plural Society
            Supervisors Dr. Wander van der Vaart and Prof. dr. Gaby Jacobs 

            Field of Research:   Innovative approaches of multi-layered research into meaning in life

            Research projects into meaning in life in humanistic studies usually address complex phenomena like loneliness, trauma, resilience, relatedness, racism, religious experiences, ethical dilemmas, conflict. Studying these phenomena often requires both an individual focus and a broader, contextual (i.e., social, organizational, societal) orientation.  Moreover, such a layered understanding of meaning in life may well benefit from an interdisciplinary approach that combines - in a ‘designed’ manner - insights from the social sciences, historical sciences and/or philosophy.

            In this line, the basic qualification for the offered PhD-research opportunities is, that within research projects the substantial themes are inevitably intertwined with developing innovative, tailor-made, research procedures and methods. The methodological work builds on interpretative, interactive approaches (agency side) and/or on standardized, structured approaches (structural side), as related to the substantive challenges. At centre stage are research populations in which people deal with social, communicative, emotional or cognitive challenges, in particular people in need of spiritual care. 

            The main asset of the proposed projects is the combination of substantive and methodological research themes that enhance each other and both result in relevant contributions to the research field. One powerful framework for studying substantive meaning in life issues together with related methodological issues, is the life course approach. Another prevailing framework to study these issues is a relational approach.  The examples of research questions below are formulated from these perspectives; other frameworks are feasible as well.

            Examples of research questions

            How do major life events in people’s life course affect the retrospective reconstruction of their life narrative and how does this relate to their experienced meaning in life? 

            Related: What type of interviewing strategy is suited to collect adequate data on major personal life events and how could a Life History Calendar be designed to integrate contextual and (sensitive) personal information?

            Accordingly, in what manner could a Life History Calendar be adapted to professional use during spiritual counselling practices?

            What is the role of partner relationship, other close relationships, and professional care relationships, in the ‘meaning making process’ of older people receiving long-term care?

            Related: What kind of dynamics induces a ‘third party interview’ - in which a trusted third person (family member, neighbour, nurse, etc.) is involved in the personal interview with the interviewee – and how could this be used to enhance data quality, lifting limitations while preventing possible detrimental impacts?

            Accordingly, how could ‘third party interviewing’ be made applicable for spiritual counselling practices as to provide proper help to clients with limited social-cognitive abilities?

            Place for:

            One or two external PhD candidates

            Contact and information


            Supervised by professor Gaby Jacobs.