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Innovation und Tradition in the Field of Entangled Religion and Medicine: Questioning the Differentiation of Religion and Medicine (1/3)

Panel Chair: Bettina E. Schmidt | Monday, August 24, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

With the modern development of biomedicine and its scientific institutions, medicine and religion have been differentiated as distinct subsystems. However, religious and medical concepts and therapeutic practices are often intertwined, which indicates a process of de-differentiation. Furthermore, the etic distinction between medicine and religion does not necessarily coincide with emic perceptions. With these perspectives in mind, we focus on innovations in religious practice and discourse that resulted from the entanglement of religion and medicine. Different to Europe and North America, the emergence of secular biomedicine in many regions has not led to a similar differentiation of religion and medicine. Often, biomedicine is only one healing system among others, including religious forms of healing. How are medicine and religion interrelated with each other in medical pluralism? Do interaction, competition and conflict between different healing systems lead to innovation? How can this field be approached from an anthropological perspective?

Bettina E. Schmidt

Wellbeing and mediumnistic healing – the relationship between biomedicine and religious healing in Brazil

Healing is a consistent feature of the practices of many religious groups in Brazil. Mediumnistic healing often even develops in dialogue with medical professionals. Therefore, Brazilian psychiatrists, Alexander Moreira de Almeida and Francisco Lotufo-Neto, propose special methodological guidelines for the study of ASC, which include a warning against pathologising the unusual. They urge us to consider the cultural contexts as well as the cultural meanings of the terms “normality” and “pathology” and hence to carefully consider the limitations of psychiatric classifications. Some Brazilian scholars even argue that the complementarity between science and faith is embedded in a culture in Brazil where healing is sought in both conventional and non-conventional institutions. This paper will discuss the relationship between medicine and religious healing in Brazil where the boundaries between the dimensions of religion and biomedicine are regularly crossed, thus engendering new therapeutic practices and epistemologies.

Rebecca Lynch

Beyond “religion” and “medicine”: Cosmological worldview and everyday practices in a Trinidadian village

The distinction between “religion” and “medicine” is hard to maintain when looking at everyday practices in a Trinidadian village. Concepts of the body, health and illness can be linked to both etic categories; spirits dwell within bodies and are crucial elements in the cause and treatment of illness and in maintaining health. To live a Christian lifestyle guided by, and in communication with, the Holy Spirit is to be healthy; neglecting this can cause devilish interference in the form of illness. Biomedicine, local bush medicine and spiritual healing are used separately and together in treatment, but all are only effective if God wills them to be. Such different medical systems cannot be easily separated from each other, or from “religion”. Drawing on ethnographic data of everyday practices in Trinidad, I suggest that such etic terms restrict analysis. Instead studying broader cosmological worldviews are more productive in understanding illness and healing.

Nasima Selim

Ontologies in Sufi healing: Beyond religion and medicine

Sufi healing and other “oriental” practices of “family resemblance” have entered the everyday contemporary “West”. More than twenty Sufi networks inhabit the “multi-cultural” city of Berlin. My doctoral project explores how Sufism is enacted and experienced in urban healing practices, navigating three transnational Sufi networks during twelve months of sensory “praxiography”. This paper mobilizes three case illustrations: Heilritual, the absent healing ritual; Sohbet, spiritual conversation; and Sema, the whirling meditation – to show innovative ways in which these “material practices” assemble body techniques, things, images, discourses, history-place-making processes, and “technologies of the self” towards healing effects or unintended consequences. Beyond restricting healing to the a-priori fields of religion and/or medicine, I argue for an ontological approach in order to discuss what kinds of Sufism are enacted to create Healing, as for example in “relation to a highest reality” or in healing, when it “addresses the particularities of individual episodes of suffering”.

Gabriele Alex

„Whatever the doctor says is medicine, that is medicine” – notions of knowledge and belief in Tamil Nadu, South India

Whereas for states and academic institutions the differentiation into knowledge (science) and belief (religion) is a crucial instrument of classification and legitimisation of knowledge, for people who are facing sickness or other kinds of misfortune this divide can be played out in various ways. Based on fieldwork in rural Tamil Nadu the paper presents different sickness episodes focusing on the health seeking behaviour, in order to analyse how different notions of health (such as individual health versus corporate health, or physical health versus spiritual health), knowledge and belief are negotiated in episodes of sickness, how these notions impact on each other and how these processes give room for innovation in different fields. The paper argues that seemingly secular or religious healing practices, once appropriated into individual sickness episodes, develop their own meaning within the respective contexts.


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