Higher Power, Brain Power: An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis of Spiritual and Religious Characteristics of 12-Step Recovery Models in the Context of the Brain Disease Model of Addiction

Kime, Katharine Givens (2017). Higher Power, Brain Power: An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis of Spiritual and Religious Characteristics of 12-Step Recovery Models in the Context of the Brain Disease Model of Addiction. (Dissertation, Emory University, Graduate Division of Religion Person, Community, and Religious Life)

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An inverse relationship between spirituality and substance abuse consistently characterizes research findings on recovery from substance use disorders. Studies across medical and social sciences evaluate treatment strategies and efficacy measuring spiritual and religious (S/R) characteristics, but many employ simplistic single-item measures, and almost none engage scholarship in theology or religion. Growing public interest in and increasing research funding for brain disease models of addiction (BDMA) represent a significant shift in the medical and popular discourse on addiction. No investigations explore the impact of this shift on S/R characteristics of recovery. This oversight leads to further fragmentation and reduction of addiction research into isolated components that too often fail to attend to the lived experiences of people living with addictions. This qualitative study uses interpretive phenomenological analysis to investigate the experiences of six North American adults, each with at least three years of recovery from addiction. In-depth key informant interviews track constructions of their experiences and etiologies of addiction. Through an analysis of these interviews, this project identifies two distinctive characteristics in such constructions. First, the cultural authority of neuroscience, regardless of the lack of medical agreement on or evidence supporting the BDMA, is a significant force in constructing the meanings of addiction for many seeking to recover because it engenders an increasingly mechanistic, agential, and mind-centered sense of self, resulting in changed conditions of belief for those in recovery. Second, the insights of Harvard philosopher Charles Taylor on secularity, particularly his notion of the buffered self, offer significant resources for understanding the functions of spirituality and religion in participants’ recovery from addiction by providing a conceptual framework sufficient to understand a wide variety of spiritual/religious beliefs and practices ranging from orthodox Christianity to agnosticism. Spiritual and religious characteristics of recovery persist, but an increasingly buffered model of the self necessitates different strategies in recovering from addiction. The findings describe innovations and paradoxical tensions within participant accounts. Attending to critical interventions impacting individuals in recovery, including their journeys of making meaning of experiences of addiction, reveals complex language and concepts required to describe the meanings of addiction and recovery.

Item Type:

Thesis (Dissertation)


01 Faculty of Theology > Department of Protestant Theology [disontinued] > Institute of Practical Theology [discontinued] > Pastoral Care, Religious Psychology and Religious Education [discontinued]

UniBE Contributor:

Kime, Katharine Givens


200 Religion > 250 Christian pastoral practice & religious orders




Katharine Givens Kime

Date Deposited:

09 Apr 2018 09:53

Last Modified:

22 Oct 2019 20:22

Uncontrolled Keywords:

addiction; spirituality; recovery; brain disease model of addiction; 12 step; buffered self; higher power; neuro turn





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