May 11, 1997
A method which uses a generalized tensorial $\zeta$-function to compute the renormalized stress tensor of a quantum field propagating in a (static) curved background is presented. The starting point of the method is the direct computation of the functional derivatives of the Euclidean one-loop effective action with respect to the background metric. This method, when available, gives rise to a conserved stress tensor and produces the conformal anomaly formula directly. It is proven that the obtained stress tensor agrees with statistical mechanics in the case of a finite temperature theory. The renormalization procedure is controlled by the structure of the poles of the stress-tensor $\zeta$ function. The infinite renormalization is automatic and is due to a ``magic'' cancellation of two poles. The remaining finite renormalization involves conserved geometrical terms arising by a certain residue. Such terms renormalize coupling constants of the geometric part of Einstein's equations (customary generalized through high-order curvature terms). The method is checked on particular cases (closed and open Einstein`s universe) finding agreement with other approaches. The method is also checked considering a massless scalar field in the presence of a conical singularity in the Euclidean manifold (i.e. Rindler spacetimes/large mass black hole manifold/cosmic string manifold). There, the method gives rise to the stress tensor already got by the point-splitting approach for every coupling with the curvature regardless of the presence of the singular curvature. Comments on the measure employed in the path integral, the use of the optical manifold and different approaches to renormalize the Hamiltonian are made.