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6122 -- KAISER, PETER & MARIE-THERES BENNER

Religion als Ressource. Die Karen in Flüchtlingslagern an der Thailändisch-Burmesischen Grenze
Curare 26.2003:37-52

##Religion as a factor of resilience in long-term refugees, exemplified in the Karen at the Thai Burmese border
To stay mentally healthy in conditions like a refugee camp protective factors including functioning family or community structures, strong religious belief systems and work are important. In miserable conditions like refugee camps, religion can have a strong positive impact on coping strategies in hopeless situations. Religion (as well as other belief systems or forms of identification) can help to transcend the immediate situation and give it meaning. Research on this subject postulates that the effects of religion and religiosity are salutary, depending on at least three interdependent factors: The way disease and strokes of fate are explained in the specific belief system; the kind of religiosity of the believer (intrinsic versus extrinsic versus quest etc.) and the integration of the individual belief in the belief system of the human environment. Since the first decades of the 19th century, the remote western area of upper Burma attracted not only soldiers and merchants of the British Empire, but also missionaries, mainly Baptists from the U.S. Most of the different ethnic groups in the region did believe in animism; it is mentioned that some of them had a specific oral history of a saviour. Subsequently, as Christian converts gained more influence, due to better education, many Karen followed this example. Data from the ethnic Karen in refugee camps along the Thai Burmese border reveal that the affected population seems to have better coping mechanisms than expected, probably partly due to the still prevalent specific religious belief in the redeemer. This idea is shared both by Christian and Buddhist Karen. The impact of the idea of millenarianism concerning transcendence of the present and the ability to give life under these conditions a meaning, is difficult to estimate. This depends on the degree of intrinsic religiosity, in other words, to what extent this belief has been internalised to enable the individual or the group to develop sufficient mental stability. Health experts should be careful when importing so called help and be aware of indigenous structures and to have an impact on health. Mental health programs should stimulate these mechanisms of adaptation and foster self help to minimize helplessness. Programs should help refugees develop coping mechanisms to replace or restore the lost protective factors offered by social networks, religion and culture.##

Keywords: Karen, religion of Karen, refugees, coping strategies, millenarianism chiliasm, salutogenesis, empowerment, animism, missionaries, Christianity, Buddhism, health and religion

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