Graeter, “To Revive and Abundant Life”

Graeter, Stefanie.  2017. TO REVIVE AN ABUNDANT LIFE: Catholic Science and Neoextractivist Politics in Peru’s Mantaro Valley.  Cultural Anthropology 32(1): 117-148.

Abstract: Since the turn of the twenty-first century, the rapid growth of Peru’s extractive industries has unleashed diverse forms of political resistance to an economic system dependent on ecological destruction and human harm. In the central highlands of Peru, a Catholic scientific project based out of the Archdiocese of Huancayo undertook six years of research on heavy-metal contamination in the Mantaro Valley. This included lead-exposure studies in the notoriously polluted city of La Oroya, home to the country’s largest polymetallic smelter. How did the Catholic Church become an apt institution for the production of science in this region? Drawing on fieldwork with the Revive the Mantaro Project, this article conceptualizes the integration of religious and scientific practitioners and practices and the political landscape that necessitated, shaped, and limited them. Technocratic governance and anti-leftist sentiments made science a suitable political idiom for the Catholic Church to enact its ethos of abundance and demand the legitimacy of life beyond bare life. A state of endemic corruption and epistemic mistrust also obliged Catholic accompaniment to scientific practices to generate trust for the researchers and to provide ethical credibility as their knowledge entered the fray of national mining politics. Ultimately contending with entrenched systems of power, the Revive the Mantaro Project’s significance extended beyond political efficacy; its practices enacted a world of democracy, rights, and legal protections not yet of this world.

Gunther Brown, “The Healing Gods: Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Christian America”

Gunther Brown, Candy. 2013. The Healing Gods: Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Christian America. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Publisher’s description: The question typically asked about complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is whether it works. However, an issue of equal or greater significance is why it is supposed to work. The Healing Gods: Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Christian America explains how and why CAM entered the American biomedical mainstream and won cultural acceptance, even among evangelical and other theologically conservative Christians, despite its ties to non-Christian religions and the lack of scientific evidence of its efficacy and safety.
Before the 1960s, most of the practices Candy Gunther Brown considers-yoga, chiropractic, acupuncture, Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, meditation, martial arts, homeopathy, anticancer diets-were dismissed as medically and religiously questionable. These once-suspect health practices gained approval as they were re-categorized as non-religious (though generically spiritual) health-care, fitness, or scientific techniques. Although CAM claims are similar to religious claims, CAM gained cultural legitimacy because people interpret it as science instead of religion.  Holistic health care raises ethical and legal questions of informed consent, consumer protection, and religious establishment at the center of biomedical ethics, tort law, and constitutional law. The Healing Gods confronts these issues, getting to the heart of values such as personal autonomy, self-determination, religious equality, and religious voluntarism.

Gunther Brown, “Testing Prayer”

Gunther Brown, Candy. 2012. Testing Prayer: Science and Healing. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Publisher’s Description: When sickness strikes, people around the world pray for healing. Many of the faithful claim that prayer has cured them of blindness, deafness, and metastasized cancers, and some believe they have been resurrected from the dead. Can, and should, science test such claims? A number of scientists say no, concerned that empirical studies of prayer will be misused to advance religious agendas. And some religious practitioners agree with this restraint, worrying that scientific testing could undermine faith.

In Candy Gunther Brown’s view, science cannot prove prayer’s healing power, but what scientists can and should do is study prayer’s measurable effects on health. If prayer produces benefits, even indirectly (and findings suggest that it does), then more careful attention to prayer practices could impact global health, particularly in places without access to conventional medicine.

Drawing on data from Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians, Brown reverses a number of stereotypes about believers in faith-healing. Among them is the idea that poorer, less educated people are more likely to believe in the healing power of prayer and therefore less likely to see doctors. Brown finds instead that people across socioeconomic backgrounds use prayer alongside conventional medicine rather than as a substitute. Dissecting medical records from before and after prayer, surveys of prayer recipients, prospective clinical trials, and multiyear follow-up observations and interviews, she shows that the widespread perception of prayer’s healing power has demonstrable social effects, and that in some cases those effects produce improvements in health that can be scientifically verified.