The Role of Religious Leaders in Suicide Prevention: A Comparative Analysis of American Christian and Japanese Buddhist Clergy

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Hirono, Tatsushi
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The purpose of this study is to examine American and Japanese clergy's perception of their role in the prevention of suicide. The aim of this study is to try to clarify what kinds of resources or training clergy need to help them prevent suicide. The research questions are: (1) How do clergy perceive suicide in the USA and Japan?; (2) Do they see suicide differently?; and (3) How do clergy perceive the role of suicide prevention in the USA and Japan? The hypotheses are: (A) Christian clergy think that suicide is a"sin" and not acceptable?; (B) Buddhist clergy are more accepting of suicide than Christian clergy?; and (C) There role differences related to suicide prevention in the Japanese and American religious communities?; and (D) American and Japanese religious leaders have a different view of their obligations related to suicide prevention. Using Verizon (New York) and NTT (Tokyo) phone books, the investigator sent each group of 400 randomly sampled clergy, anonymous mail surveys to Eastern New York (New York City and Long Island) and Western Tokyo (Three Tama Area and Western Wards). The investigator received 79 replies in the US and 78 replies in Japan, and the return rates in each country were about 20%. The surveys included 20 questions which ask about the clergy's personal beliefs, and the Church's role in suicide prevention. The investigator analyzed the responses both quantitative and qualitative. The major findings are: many American Christian clergy think that suicide is a sin; however, many clergy also commented that"God's love is available for people who committed suicide.&quot. Many Japanese Buddhist clergy think how one dies is not the most important issue but how one has lived was more important. There is a cultural similarity in both religious communities: God's or Buddha's love is still available to people who committed suicide. There is also a difference: suicide is a"forgivable sin" for American Christian clergy; and suicide is a"free choice" for Japanese Buddhist clergy. Clergy in both countries should advocate for the importance of life and suicide prevention in their communities.
The Graduate School, Stony Brook University: Stony Brook, NY.
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