Spiritual Care: The Everyday Work of Chaplains

Chaplains are America’s hidden spiritual and religious leaders. Required in the military, federal prisons and Veterans Administration medical centers, they also work in two-thirds of hospitals, most hospices, many institutions of higher education, and a growing range of other settings. A 2019 survey found that 21% of Americans had had contact with a chaplain in the previous two years, a number that has likely increased as chaplains cared for patients, family members, and medical staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This book asks who chaplains are, what they do, how that work is connected to the settings where they do it, and how they have responded to and helped shape recent shifts in the American religious landscape. Archival research in religious organizations, government departments, and other institutions allows Cadge to chart the work of chaplains and historically. Interviews with more than a hundred chaplains and time spent with them in hospitals, on container shops, in prisons, and with the unhoused shows how chaplains are a crucial part of institutional religious ecologies. The book is a rich study of the rarely noticed but essential work of chaplains as religious and spiritual leaders.

Spiritual Care is an important text for undergraduate and graduate students in sociology and religious studies as well as for people training to be chaplains and experienced chaplains alike.


Mark Chaves, Anne Firor Scott Distinguished Professor of Sociology | Duke University:

“Chaplains largely have been overlooked in the study of American religion. This ground-breaking book changes that. Always informative and sometimes moving, Spiritual Care is a must-read for anyone interested in religious work and those who do it.”

Rabbi Mychal B. Springer, Manager of Clinical Pastoral Education | New York-Presbyterian Hospital:

“In Paging God, Wendy Cadge opens a window into faith as experienced by hospital caregivers, presenting the narratives of nurses, chaplains, physicians, and other members of the hospital team as they care for people of diverse religious traditions. Fascinating and illuminating, this book is a revelation.”

2022 Word & Way, Recommended Book of the Year

If you’d like to teach this book in a course, these resources may be of assistance. You may also be interested in the work and free resources of the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab at Brandeis University, of which Wendy Cadge is director.

The cover of Spiritual Care: The Work of Everyday Chaplains

The cover of the book shows the chapel at Erich Lindemann Mental Health Center, 25 Staniford Street, Boston, MA 02114. Designed by architect Paul Rudolph in 1962 and completed in 1971, few people know the building has a chapel (which is not open to the public). More information here.

Discussion questions

Suggested discussion questions include prompts for lower-level undergraduate courses, upper-level undergraduate courses, and seminars. 

Multimedia on the built space of spirituality

Some of the spaces discussed in the book have been featured on Boston Public Radio and in other, immersive projects. These resources will help students connect with the built space of spirituality, how it has changed over time, and its function today.

Primary documents from the history of area chapels

Among the most historically and sociologically significant religious / spiritual spaces are Boston’s mid-twentieth-century Catholic workmen’s chapels, including Our Lady of the Airways at Logan airportOur Lady of Good Voyage in the port, Our Lady of the Railways at Boston’s South Station, and St. Francis Chapel in the Prudential Center. These resources will help students better understand why these spaces were built, why demand for them has changed, and how they are used now. Documents are also available for the chapels at Massachusetts General Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital (with more available here), Boston Children’s Hospital, Boston University, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, New England Baptist Hospital, Northeastern University, and Sherrill House.

Boston’s Hidden Sacred Spaces

This project, funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, documents the built spaces of spirituality that are often overlooked or hidden from plain sight. With photographer Randall Armor, Wendy Cadge explored these spaces from their original to their current use. These resources include a virtual tour.

Resources for students in spiritual care

Compiled by the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab at Brandeis University, these resources will help students who have begun degree programs in theological schools or seminaries explore chaplaincy as a career.

Resources for educators in spiritual care

Compiled by the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab at Brandeis University, these resources will help educators in degree programs in theological schools or seminaries training students for potential careers in spiritual care. These include a recent textbook, Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care in the Twenty-First Century.

Resources on chaplains working in seaports

These resources include a brief documentary film, radio coverage, and scholarly research articles on one of the least-known sites of chaplaincy.

© Wendy Cadge, All Rights Reserved