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Disability and Religion: Studies and Overview

Updated/Revised Date: 2023-09-19
Author: Disabled World - Contact Details
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Synopsis: Information and disability studies that reference religion and disabilities, includes religious beliefs, purpose, and treatment regarding the disabled. In studies on the relationship between religion and disability, in particular, the history of Christianity, attitudes towards disability have varied considerably. Overall, religion tends to give people something to believe in, provides a sense of structure, and typically offers a group of people to connect with over similar beliefs.

Main Document

Disability, be it physical or mental, has been largely misunderstood by many. From healing miracles that position the disabled body as a site for manifesting religious faith to sacred scriptures that treat disability as a form of deviance or an expression of divine judgment, disability has an uneasy place within religious texts and traditions. While some fail to understand the condition, others might be insensitive to it - then some believe that disability is a curse...


Overall, religion tends to give people something to believe in, provides a sense of structure, and typically offers a group of people to connect with over similar beliefs. These facets can positively impact mental health - research suggests that religiosity reduces suicide rates, alcoholism, and drug use.

In India, especially in the past, exclusion of the disabled is seen as a cultural norm and often associated with religious beliefs, especially those of being cursed. Families with disabled members in rural societies regularly blame the mother for birthing a child with a disability and often use harsh ways to ill-treat them.

Difference Between BC-AD and BCE-CE

The Gregorian calendar (and its predecessor, the Julian calendar) is based on the supposed birth date of Jesus Christ. Subsequent years count up from this event and are accompanied by either AD or CE, while preceding years count down from it and are accompanied by either BC or BCE.

Common Era and Before the Common Era are alternatives to the Anno Domini (AD) and Before Christ (BC) notations used by Dionysius Exiguus. The two notation systems are numerically equivalent: "2022 CE" and "AD 2022" each describe the current year; "400 BCE" and "400 BC" are the same year.


Christians commonly adopt the prevailing medical model of disability. This model is based on what non-disabled people think is best for persons with disabilities. In studies on the relationship between religion and disability, in particular, the history of Christianity, attitudes towards disability have varied greatly.

In the Middle Ages, there were two general approaches to those with disabilities. Some priests and scholars believed that disability was a punishment from God for committing sins, as is frequently described in the Bible. Others believed that those with disabilities were more pious than non-disabled people.

Disability studies regularly use secular voices that regard religious thought as having no place in thinking about disability. That has partly been due to concerns about how religious traditions view disability.

In the Christian Bible, disability is viewed as a disease (The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible: 1962; Encyclopedia Judaica: 1972). The most common diseases mentioned in the Bible are blindness, deafness, dumbness, leprosy, and paralysis. Visual impairment is the most common form of physical disability in antiquity.

The general view of the Old Testament writers is that God brings disability as punishment for transgressions for sin or as an expression of God's wrath for people's disobedience. It is seen as a curse and as a result of unbelief and ignorance (Jewish Encyclopedia, 1920; The Talmud of Jerusalem, 1956; and Encyclopedia Judaica, 1972).

Today, disability is still linked with sin in some denominations of the church and in some cultures where Christianity is the predominant religion. Christians with disabilities also report feeling unwelcome when attending church. Many families of children with disabilities in America report feeling excluded from Church services because of the attitudes of other congregation members. On the other hand, some Christians feel that their faith means they have a duty to care for those with disabilities.

"The conflation between sin and disability confirms the religious model of disability, which views disability as a punishment inflicted upon an individual or family by God as a result of sin. Consequently, disability stigmatizes not only the individual but the whole family. The implication is the exclusion of PWD from society's social, economic, political, and spiritual spheres." - Biblical and Theological Perspectives on Disability.


In Islam, the cause of disability is not attributed to wrongdoing by the disabled person or their parents. Islam views disability as a challenge set by Allah. The Qur'an urges people to treat people with intellectual disabilities with kindness and to protect people with disabilities. Muhammed is shown to treat disabled people with respect.

In Contemporary Islam in Saudi Arabia, there is a strong focus on equality for children and adults with special needs based on Islam's views on disability.

Disability and World Religions

The book "Disability and World Religions: An Introduction" edited by Darla Y. Schumm and Michael Stoltzfus, introduces readers to the rich diversity of the world's religions - Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Confucianism, Daoism, and Native American traditions. Each chapter introduces a specific religious tradition in a manner that offers innovative approaches to familiar themes in contemporary debates about religion and disability, including personhood, autonomy, community, ability, transcendence, morality, practice, the interpretation of texts, and conditioned claims regarding the normal human body or mind. The book is part of Baylor UP's "Studies in Religion, Theology, and Disability" series, which responds to what the Series Introduction cites as "the emergence of disability studies as an interdisciplinary endeavor that has impacted theological studies" with "thoughtful reflection on the religious understanding of disability."

Religious Accommodation in The United States of America

In the U.S., reasonable religious accommodation is any adjustment to the work environment that allows an employee to practice their religious beliefs. This applies not only to schedule changes or leave for religious observances but also to such things as dress or grooming practices that an employee has for religious reasons.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to reasonably accommodate the religious practice of an employee or prospective employee unless doing so would cause undue hardship to the employer. To learn more about workplace religious accommodation, please visit these additional resources provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:

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