About Us

Hildegard of BingenThe Theology, Medicine, and Culture (TMC) initiative engages a wide range of individuals, communities, and institutions on fundamental questions about human flourishing, fragility, and death. Centered at Duke Divinity School, the initiative engages faculty and students from theology, medicine, nursing, public policy, and the arts and sciences.  We seek to foster transdisciplinary relationships around programs, courses, and scholarly projects addressing questions at the intersection of theology, medicine, and culture. 

TMC also partners with scholars from other institutions and with leaders from faith communities to deepen theological reflection, church practice, and community formation related to the human experience of illness, suffering, and death.

TMC is motivated in part by a recognition that the U.S. is experiencing considerable challenges in health care. While per-capita health spending is roughly twice that of any industrialized country, potentially threatening U.S. economic stability, Americans are no healthier, on average, than residents of other economically advanced countries. The burnout rate of American physicians approaches 50%. Patients often voice dissatisfaction at being treated impersonally by physicians and health care systems. Any sustainable response to the complex problems of modern health care must be transdisciplinary, drawing not just from medical practitioners but from informed voices in other disciplines and from the culture at large.

TMC is committed to the belief that religious communities and religious traditions have an important role to play in naming and solving the structural challenges facing modern health care, for two reasons. First, religious congregations are important loci of communal care in times of sickness and distress, and are even more widely distributed geographically and demographically than hospitals and clinics. Second, internal to the historical and theological traditions of these communities there are powerful resources to reimagine the way that medicine is conceived and practiced in our culture.

The long-term goal of ITMC is to draw on university and community talent and resources to pioneer new, transformative, and theologically-informed configurations of medicine that can serve as models for medicine’s moral and spiritual renewal within our larger culture.

TMC Leadership

Ray Barfield, TMC Director, is associate professor of pediatrics and Christian philosophy at Duke University.  He received his M.D. and his Ph.D. (in philosophy) from Emory University.  He is a pediatric oncologist with an interest in the intersection of medicine, philosophy, theology, and literature. His medical research has focused on immune therapies for childhood cancer (including bone marrow transplantation and antibody therapy) and improvement of the quality of life for children with severe or fatal diseases. His work in philosophy focuses on the imagination, narrative approaches to philosophical issues, and the history of the impact of literature on philosophical thought. He has over 80 publications in medicine, philosophy, and literature. His book The Ancient Quarrel Between Poetry and Philosophy was published by Cambridge University Press, and he has a book of poetry forthcoming called Life In the Blind Spot.  Ray directs the Pediatric Quality of Life and Palliative Care Program, and Initiatives in Theology, Medicine and Culture.  

Warren Kinghorn is assistant professor of psychiatry and pastoral and moral theology at Duke University Medical Center and Duke Divinity School, and a staff psychiatrist at Durham VA Medical Center, Durham, N.C.  He received his M.D. from Harvard Medical School and his M.T.S. and Th.D. from Duke Divinity School.  He is a psychiatrist with interests in the teaching of medical professionalism, in the intersection of theology and trauma theory, in the philosophy of psychiatric diagnosis, and in the way that religious communities care for persons with mental illness.  

Richard Payne is an internationally known expert in the areas of pain relief, care for those near death, oncology, and neurology. He has served on numerous panels and advisory committees, many at the national level. He has given expert testimony to the Congressional Black Caucus National Brain Trust and the President's Cancer Panel in the area of healthcare access disparities in cancer care, palliative medicine, and end-of-life care. He also has received a Distinguished Service Award from the American Pain Society, of which he is president; the Humanitarian Award from the Urban Resources Institute; and the Janssen Excellence in Pain Award.

Farr Curlin, MD, is a palliative medicine physician who holds joint appointments in the School of Medicine, including its Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities & History of Medicine, and in Duke Divinity School, including its Initiative on Theology, Medicine and Culture. Together with Duke colleagues, he aims to foster scholarship, study, and training regarding the intersections of medicine, ethics, and religion. Before moving to Duke, Farr founded and was co-director of the Program on Medicine and Religion at the University of Chicago. His scholarship focuses on the moral and spiritual dimensions of medical practice—particularly practices of care for patients at the end of life, the doctor-patient relationship, and the moral and professional formation of physicians.