From Beaune to Breaking Bad
: using the arts to meet cancer patients’ need and desire for spiritual care

  • Ewan Bowlby

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This thesis sets out an innovative, arts-based approach to the spiritual care of cancer patients, and provides empirical evidence of the value and viability of this approach in practice. In Chapter 1, I show how my pragmatic, arts-based method responds to the recognised need for spiritual care amongst cancer patients, while responding also to the increasing subjectivity and variety of spirituality in the contemporary patient body. I also describe the qualitative research methods I used to gather evidence for the effectiveness or otherwise of these interventions. In Chapters 2-5, I analyse how different kinds of art (including ‘high’ and ‘popular’) can help cancer patients with four central areas of spiritual concern without (as in art therapy) the patients having to produce art themselves: the capacity for fictional narratives to reflect and reframe cancer patients’ experiences of time (Chapter 2); how longform television can support a cancer patient’s search for meaning in suffering and death (Chapter 3); the value of entertaining popular films in introducing the therapeutic or transformative impacts of levity and laughter (Chapter 4); and the affordance of ‘sentimental’ art, often criticised, in meeting cancer patients’ spiritual needs (Chapter 5). The illustrative case studies show how a range of different genres and media, such as ‘tearjerker’ novels, comedy films, and television dramas, can present affirming portrayals of life with cancer, as well as offering alternative perspectives that reframe a patient’s experiences. Drawing on empirical evidence gathered from my collaborations with cancer support charities, these case studies reveal how this open, inviting, arts-based approach can help modern medicine to overcome barriers to the provision of effective spiritual care in contemporary Western healthcare.
Date of Award5 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorGeorge Corbett (Supervisor)

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