Amplifying History in Healthcare: Ronit Stahl


Season two of Public Historians at Work is underway as episode two is now available online for listening. This episode features a conversation about America’s healthcare system and how viewing our modern institutions and systems through the lens of history can help to make sense of the present.

In this episode, University of Houston Associate Professor of History, Dr. Mark Goldberg, interviews guest speaker Dr. Ronit Stahl, Associate Professor of History at University of California, Berkeley on her work researching religious hospitals, the role of religion in the military, and the larger legal implications of “religion” and “conscience” in American corporations.

Stahl discusses how her current project on religious hospitals was sparked by the controversary of the Hobby Lobby decision in 2014, in which the Supreme Court granted that Hobby Lobby, as a privately owned corporation, could reject part of the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act. The ruling sparked a great deal of controversy as to how a corporation could use religion as grounds to reject what some considered to be basic health care rights. Stahl’s work explores the larger history of conscience and religion in health care, and she reminds listeners that regardless of how they feel about hospitals, they are corporations at their very core, whether for-profit or non-profit.

Her work on religious hospitals took her back through legislative history going back to the mid-nineteenth century when hospitals first acquired conscience rights in 1973. By viewing this legislative work, Stahl was able to include different kinds of hospitals, spaces, and religions in her work and encouraged her to tackle a larger idea: What does the history of religious hospitals tell us about health care, institutions, and the interaction between religion and the law?

As a public historian, Stahl feels that this work is important in that at some point in everyone’s life, religion in health care will have a direct impact on their lives. This could be in regard to reproductive care, LGBTQ care, or end of life care, and thus this work becomes meaningful to everyone. Stahl expresses hope that her work will allow general audiences to understand why our healthcare system is the way it is today by looking through the stories in history that brought us to where we are today.

Listen to the full episode here:

For more on Dr. Stahl’s work, see