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Innovation und Tradition in the Field of Entangled Religion and Medicine: Questioning the Differentiation of Religion and Medicine (2/3)

A208
Panel Chair: Dorothea Lüddeckens | Tuesday, August 25, 3:30-5:30 p.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 coincide with emic perceptions, which do not necessarily differentiate between medical and religious ‘treatment’. With these perspectives in mind, we focus on innovations in religious practice and discourse that resulted from the entanglement of religion and medicine. In contemporary societies the boundaries between religion and medicine are constantly re-negotiated. Public discourses about health care reflect diverse ways in which therapeutic techniques are labeled by politicians, doctors, “healers”, patients etc. Often, reference is made to “innovation” or “tradition” in order to legitimize authoritative claims. This panel investigates how discourses create new conceptions of religion and medicine, or rather dissolve this distinction altogether.

Nina Rageth

Siddha Medicine between medicine and religion: Religious communication as a means of authorizing a medical system

With the creation of the Department of Indian Systems of Medicine and Homeopathy in 1995, several so-called “traditional” medical systems like Ayurveda, Unani or Siddha Medicine got integrated in the public health sector in India. This integration meant a high degree of institutionalization and a reworking of their practices and discourses through modern modes of knowledge. This presentation will concentrate on Siddha Medicine, which is mainly practiced in the south Indian state Tamil Nadu. It will show how on the one hand Siddha Medicine recognized as a medical system participates in a medical discourse yet how on the other hand it applies a distinctively religious communication in order to gain and maintain authority in the medical field. This religious communication can be seen in the rhetoric of tradition and the emphasis on the divine origin of the medical knowledge as well as in its concepts of personhood.

Philipp Hetmanczyk

The notion of “qi” in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in China and the West

The concept of “qi” is connected to Chinese cosmology and several religious traditions, including healing and body practices such as Qi Gong. Practitioners of TCM in Western countries commonly connect their practice to “qi” as “vital energy”, which makes TCM compatible with a market of spirituality and healthcare, where religion and medicine tend to dedifferentiate and “tradition” is often valued as innovative contribution to secularized biomedicine. Authorities in China (PRC) have tried to draw a clear line between religion and medicine to exclude concepts suspected of carrying religious (or “superstitious”) meaning, thus preventing medical innovation and “progress”. By separating “qi” from its cosmological context and defining it as purely somatic functions, Qi Gong became acceptable to TCM. However, since the conflict between officials and the Falun Gong movement, Qi Gong as well as the very notion of “qi” seem to have turned problematic again for TCM in China.

Monika Schrimpf

Buddhist medicine or medical Buddhism? Medical discourses in contemporary Japanese Buddhism

Since the 1990s, Japan has experienced a boom of healing practices in the field of the “New Spirituality Culture”, ranging from meditation and yoga to visiting power spots or Buddhist sculptures. In addition, New Religious Movements offer diverse ways of healing illnesses. This paper, however, focuses on the discourse about medicine and therapeutic practices in contemporary Buddhism. Currently, Buddhist temples, organizations or individuals offer body practices such as yoga, breathing techniques, meditation etc., as well as therapeutic consultations and spiritual care for terminally ill patients. Often, these innovative activities are presented in a way that links allegedly “traditional” knowledge to contemporary concepts of health and wellbeing. I will illustrate how Buddhist and other Asian medical knowledge is labeled in today’s Buddhist discourse by referring to the three semantic fields of medicine, spirituality and Buddhist erudition, and how these discursive strategies result in new concepts of religion and / or medicine.

Steven Sutcliffe

Response

Steven Sutcliffe will respond to the issues raised in the previous papers.

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