Gunther Brown, “Feeling is Believing”

Gunther Brown, Candy.  2014.  “Feeling is Believing: Pentecostal Prayer and Complementary and Alternative Medicine.”  Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality 14(1): 60-67.

Excerpt: Sensory experience is pivotal to postmodern culture. A globalized world seems newly interconnected, yet individuals may feel more isolated than ever before. Scientific technologies and modern medicine have achieved remarkable triumphs and exhibited devastating limitations that leave people unsatisfied and searching for “more.” Modernization has not resulted in secularization, but sources of religious knowing—revealed Scripture, inherited tradition, institutional authority—have become unsettled. Postmoderns want more than intellectual certainty; they long for direct experiences of what is really real. In the United States and globally, many postmodern Christians combine “scientific” medicine with diverse touch-oriented “religious” and “spiritual” healing practices to find healing, reassurance that God is present with them personally, and hope for their future lives on earth and in the world to come.

This essay draws on ten years of ethnographic research, in the United States and across globally diffuse social networks, on Christian prayer for divine healing and participation in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). I argue that touch-oriented healing practices attract adherents by promising sensory experience of the sacred. Bodily experiences in turn shape religious perceptions and may open a revolving door between religious world-views.

Testing Prayer: Book Review

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

By: Anna I. Corwin (UCLA)

In 2010, Candy Gunther Brown and her research team published a compelling and controversial article in Southern Medical Journal arguing that proximate intercessory prayer, performed in their study by Pentecostals in Mozambique, significantly improved the hearing and vision of a number of prayer recipients.  This claim – that prayer can heal – has been a flash point, setting off debates and controversies about the nature of prayer for generations.  This article was no different.  Brown’s book Testing Prayer: Science and Healing, sets out to reconcile some of the interest as well as the controversy Brown faced following her team’s empirical study of intercessory prayer.  She grapples with questions of whether prayer should be studied, how, and by whom.  Drawing on her background as a historian and ethnographer, Testing Prayer uses an interdisciplinary approach to address the question of efficacy, focusing specifically on global practices of Pentecostal prayer, and ultimately leading to a proposal for a multi-pronged approach to the study of efficacy in healing prayer. Continue reading

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.