Seminary students and physical health: beliefs, behaviors, and barriers


As an occupational group, clergy exhibit numerous physical health problems. Given the physical health problems faced by clergy, understanding where physical health falls within the priorities of seminary students, the ways students conceptualize physical health, and how seminary students do or do not attend to their physical health in the years immediately prior to becoming clergy, can inform intervention development for both seminary students and clergy. Moreover, understanding and shaping the health practices of aspiring clergy may be particularly impactful, with cascading effects, as clergy serve as important role models for their congregants. Drawing on 36 in-depth, qualitative interviews with first-year seminary students, this study examines the complex dynamics between religious frameworks related to physical health, explicit intentions to maintain healthy practices, and reported physical health behaviors. Our findings suggest that even students who deploy religious frameworks in relation to their physical health—and who, as a result, possess positive intentions to implement and maintain healthy behaviors—often report being unable to live up to their aspirations, especially in the face of barriers to health practices posed by the seminary program itself. After reviewing these findings, we offer suggestions for physical health focused interventions, including action and coping planning, which could be implemented at seminaries to reduce the intention–behavior gap and improve clergy health

Journal of Religion and Health