Abstract: Modern techniques of caring for the self through staying healthy rely on an ethic of choice, often evoking critiques of the (neo)liberal subject. This sense of choice has carried frequently overlooked Protestant commitments from Luther to Kant and Locke to 19th‐century American health reformers, premised on a refusal of ritual, mysticism, and the priest as the source of truth. This article explores how these implicit commitments shape the relation to other religious traditions in countries like Trinidad. Campaigns against chronic disease in Trinidad carried out in public health venues and churches echo multinational health projects in pronouncing, “We all want a healthy life.” The article draws on a Caribbean ironic sense of secularity to analyze the way that the threat to this “want” found in other religious traditions such as Pentecostal healing and Hindu ecstatic practices reveals Protestant commitments masked within a modern global “secular” care of the self.
Abstract: Faced by disparities in the fast-growing economy and the institutional weaknesses of public healthcare, poorer people in rural China have struggled to obtain effective health treatment. Christianity has played an important role in identifying and redefining the nature of this problem. The fieldwork for this article was conducted in and around a village church in eastern Henan in central China during 2012–13. The article argues that when poorer villagers’ expectations of treatment encountered the special features of Christianity and its localisation in China, a mixture of cultural idioms was created through the process of Christian conversion that furnished the rural poor with new models for treatment. The spread of Christianity as related to illness treatment in rural China thus cannot be reduced to utilitarian logic for it entails the re-imagination of illness and of the nature of the healthcare system.
Abstract: This dissertation examines how rising rates of metabolic disorders are interpreted by evangelical Christians in Samoa as evidence of the need for (re)Christianization. Evangelical Christians critique mainline Christianity as a source of suffering, and posit a relationship between church-based exchange and metabolic disorders. Metabolic disorders are particularly difficult to heal in the cultural context of Samoa because they require individuals to change their everyday lives in ways that challenge common Samoan practices of well-being, including food-sharing and feeding. Metabolic disorders also require Samoans to reformulate the associations power and potency have with large body size. This dissertation explores the ways medicalized ideas of food, fat, and fitness travel into evangelical Christian contexts in order to examine the generative intersection of religion and medicalization. While the medicalization of food, fat, and fitness is readily accepted, many Samoans struggle with how to actualize changes to their health behaviors (i.e., to eat differently, to exercise) because of the constraints of church and family obligations, and cash-poverty. Evangelical churches offer new ways to participate in church-based exchange, which are explicitly directed at alleviating cash-poverty, and evangelical Christianity has, through the linking of salvation and healing, developed ways for born-again Samoans to change health behaviors. Through conversion and healing practices, many born-again people also examine the relationships that may be a source of suffering. Data was collected over two years of ethnographic fieldwork between 2008 and 2012; fieldwork included participant observation in biomedical facilities (hospitals and clinics), in churches (Sunday services, healing ministries, Bible study, and prayer groups), and in two households. In-depth interviews were also conducted with a range of Christians and health practitioners. In a time of deepening socio-economic inequalities and increased dependence on cash, this dissertation argues that evangelical notions of well-being, in conversation with medicalization, bring into focus the socio-economic inequalities that cause metabolic disorders––inequalities that medicalization alone tends to eschew. In turn, evangelical Christians come to examine the embodied evidence of disease (e.g., stress, anger, high blood pressure) as evidence of those inequalities.
Abstract: American Catholic nuns have been found to age more ‘successfully’ than their lay counterparts, living longer, healthier, and happier lives. Two of the key factors contributing to the nuns’ physical and mental wellbeing are the spiritual support they experience from the divine and the social support they provide for and receive from each other in the convent. I argue that by integrating the divine into their everyday interactions, the nuns engage in phenomenological meaning-making process through which mundane care interactions are rendered sacred. This communicative process, I argue, contributes to the nuns’ overall wellbeing by providing an enriched form of care and support, thereby enhancing their end-of-life experience.
Abstract: I focus this study on changes in the prayer lives of U.S. Catholic nuns following Vatican II; widespread institutional change in the Catholic Church that, among other things, transformed U.S. Catholic nuns’ lives. In the article, I combine a phenomenological model of embodiment with narrative analysis to show how institutional linguistic prayer practices transform elderly nuns’ embodied experience as they age. Drawing on naturalistic video- and audio-recordings gathered over three years in a Catholic convent in the Midwestern United States, I show how changing communicative and embodied prayer practices following Vatican II have impacted U.S. Catholic nuns’ (1) understanding of the divine, (2) relationship with the divine, (3) embodied experience of the divine, and (4) how these changes have impacted their experiences of and interpretation of physical states including illness and pain. Overall, I offer insight into how changes in the nuns’ linguistic practice of prayer impact the nuns’ documented success in managing loneliness and chronic pain at the end of life.
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.