Meet Brandeis Researcher Wendy Cadge

Office of the Vice Provost for Research: Tell me about what you’re working on now.

Wendy Cadge: I am currently working on three lines of funded research. The first focuses on training for healthcare chaplaincy. With collaborators George Fitchett in Rush Medical Center’s Religion, Health and Human Values Research program and Trace Haythorn at the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, I aim to help chaplains learn the skills they need to be effective on healthcare teams in diverse—in all senses of the world—healthcare organizations.

The second line of funded research asks who port chaplains are and how they provide care to seafarers coming from a range of national and religious backgrounds who are working on cargo ships that bring goods into the US and UK. In the UK, I collaborate with sociologists Helen Sampson and Sophie Gillat-Ray and theologian Graeme Smith on a project titled, “Religion in Multi-Ethnic Contexts: A Multidisciplinary Case Study of Global Seafaring” which is funded by the Economic & Social Research Council. In the U.S., I collaborate with Jason Zuidema of the North American Maritime Ministry Association on a project about port chaplain-congregational connections, which is funded by the Louisville Institute.

The final set of projects explores Boston’s Hidden Sacred Spaces and is funded by Mass Humanities. With photographer Randall Armor and architectural historian Alice Friedman we are documenting chapels, meditation and prayer rooms in Greater Boston and sharing the photos and stories of these spaces online, in a traveling photo exhibit, and in talks.

OVPR: What do you like most about the chaplaincy training program project?

Wendy: The challenge of trying to fix a structural problem in training. It’s not that individual healthcare chaplains aren’t doing good work, but their training has not kept up with changes in healthcare, or with changes in American religious demographics. I love the challenge of trying to bring this important work into the present and figure out how to revise an educational system so that it educates for today’s realities. It’s also great to call people and tell them that they were selected for a fellowship!

OVPR: What will fixing the problems in the chaplaincy training program accomplish?

Wendy: It will help more people receive culturally sensitive care at vulnerable moments in their lives. The goal is to have healthcare chaplains trained to address the needs of a broad range of people, the true diversity of who we are, and to communicate the assistance that they’re giving into terms that healthcare professionals can understand and value. Many healthcare administrators have no idea what chaplains do, and yet, they see a lot of problems in healthcare: the system doesn’t consider the whole person, or people have trouble making difficult ethical decisions. These are problems that chaplains can help to solve, and solve well. I want to help make the link between what chaplains do and how they can help solve problems in healthcare. We think we can connect chaplains to solutions in healthcare by training chaplains and by developing a body of research that helps chaplains themselves know what they do well and how to make those linkages.

OVPR: Can the changes in the chaplaincy model tell us anything about the history of Boston?

Wendy: Port chaplaincy in Boston started in the 1800s. Protestant clergy ministered to sailors and helped to create inns where sailors could stay when not on voyages at sea. Who is on ships in the Boston Harbor has changed a lot in the last two hundred years. Today, most seafarers are born abroad and have little time in port to get off the ship. Chaplains are still Protestant, and they get up on container ships and care for the crew. They sell phone cards, share modems, and if there is time to get off the ship, to help the crew get to Best Buy or to the mall. Chaplains are doing this quiet service to seafarers in Boston and around the world. What does this tell us about how Boston has changed? When there were different waves of immigrants, there were different sets of Protestant port chaplains, and when containers started to be used to transport goods by sea in the mid-20th century the number of people in the crews went way down and the port chaplains again adjusted their work. You can see changes in the port of Boston, and particularly in the history of the people in the port of Boston, by studying changes in the people who were involved in this chaplaincy piece.

OVPR: What is a sacred space?

Wendy: The third funded project I’m working on is about hidden sacred spaces in greater Boston. We found more than 80 of these chapels, meditation and prayer rooms in public settings. They’re in hospitals, universities, there’s one at the port, and the airport, and the state prisons let us photograph a few of them. Now we’re looking in the archives for historical materials and collecting stories from people who use these spaces. I was in Boston city archives recently. They have records that there was a mortuary chapel at what is now Boston Medical Center. We’re learning about the history of these spaces, and what that history teaches about changes in Boston.

We at Brandeis have a really nice example in the three chapels built shortly after the university opened. Now we also have a Muslim prayer room and a Dharmic prayer space too. These spaces tell us about changes in who was here over time and how the university welcomed them.

OVPR: What is your favorite chapel in the broader Boston project?

Wendy: On WBUR, I said the one at Harvard Business School, and that’s the one where I would most like to sit. The one that I find most interesting is a kneeling place in the New England Seafarer’s Mission near the cruise port in Boston. On the first floor of the building they have a snack shop where they sell things from around the world. They cater to the staff of cruise ships,. On the second floor they have a MoneyGram, so staff can send money home to their families, which is why they’re working. And on the third floor they have a small chapel, that’s the most interesting and out of the way one. There’s only space for one person to kneel. We asked if anyone used the space and the director said they have a small screen and people can put it up if they want to have private phone conversations. It’s really a hidden one: most people don’t know the place is there, let alone this little place for prayer and reflection. And there’s been a chapel at Logan since 1951. Some of these things are hidden in plain sight.

OVPR: Why do you think we don’t see them?

Wendy: They’re sometimes tucked away, so you have to go looking. By virtue of being sacred spaces in public settings, nobody goes to a public setting to look for sacred space. So people have to stumble upon them. Some of them have been left to age, so they aren’t places you would want to sit. Some of them have been refurbished but are not central. In some cases it’s not clear what they’re for: Harvard Business School has this beautiful chapel, but some of these spaces are not used in the most creative ways or staffed in the most creative ways.

OVPR: Do you work with other people on this work?

Wendy: Almost all of my research projects are collaborative, both with Brandeis undergraduates and graduate students and with various scholars. It is fun to learn from all of them – I get bored too easily!

Editor's Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.