Halvorson, “Conversionary Sites”

Halvorson, Britt. Conversionary Sites: Transforming Medical Aid and Global Christianity from Madagascar to Minnesota. 2018. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Drawing on more than two years of participant observation in the American Midwest and in Madagascar among Lutheran clinicians, volunteer laborers, healers, evangelists, and former missionaries, Conversionary Sites investigates the role of religion in the globalization of medicine. Based on immersive research of a transnational Christian medical aid program, Britt Halvorson tells the story of a thirty-year-old initiative that aimed to professionalize and modernize colonial-era evangelism. Creatively blending perspectives on humanitarianism, global medicine, and the anthropology of Christianity, she argues that the cultural spaces created by these programs operate as multistranded “conversionary sites,” where questions of global inequality, transnational religious fellowship, and postcolonial cultural and economic forces are negotiated.

A nuanced critique of the ambivalent relationships among religion, capitalism, and humanitarian aid, Conversionary Sites draws important connections between religion and science, capitalism and charity, and the US and the Global South.

Doucet-Battle, “Sweet Salvation”

James Doucet-Battle, “Sweet Salvation: One Black Church, Diabetes Outreach, and Trust,” Transforming Anthropology, 24: 2 October 2016: 125–135

Abstract: Memories of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study persist in the minds of many in the African American community and informs both individual and group responses when exposed to the clinical gaze. However, the contemporary political value of diversity drives new forms of inclusion in both medical research projects and public health programs linking race, risk, and disease. This article is based in part on community-based participant observation and clinical fieldwork in Rochester, New York from 2008 to 2013. I provide an ethnographic narrative of one church’s Type 2 diabetes outreach efforts amid the diversity of the African American racial category in which the postcolonial subject is as embedded as the post-Jim Crow citizen. I examine the gendered problematics involved in establishing trust toward achieving robust outreach and recruitment goals within church spaces. This article aims to contribute to the literature on community health practices, the anthropology of trust, the sociology of knowledge, religion, and the study of race as a social category.

Nafte, “Institutional Bodies”

Nafte, Myriam. 2015. Institutional Bodies: Spatial Agency and the Dead. History & Anthropology 26(2): 206-233. 

Abstract: In this paper, I argue that the Catholic Church and Western medicine assumed historically significant roles in the use and circulation of human remains and, in so doing, established distinct traditions of dissection, preservation, and display. Furthermore, both institutions still maintain an essential role in making human remains ever more popular and culturally acceptable. The Church and Western medicine uphold various means of interaction that effectively keep the dead undisposed for specific purposes: as forms of cultural capital, objects of veneration, and fetishized, or aestheticized diversion. As such, the institutionalized dead have come to inhabit very particular spaces where they are made to perform a variety of duties for the living.

Zheng et al., “Rural Christians’ View of Sickness Treatment Behavior”

Zheng, Honge, Wei Wang, and Libin Wang.  2014. Rural Christians’ view of sickness treatment behavior: a case study from a Shandong village, China.  Anthropology and Medicine.  Early Online Publication. 

Abstract: There are few studies of Christian views of disease and treatment behavior in rural China. Based on Village G in Shandong Province, this paper describes how, under conditions of rural social and medical deprivation, Christians regard physical (routi) and mental (jingshen) sickness as resulting from disturbances to communal peace. Sickness occurs when everyday sinful words and actions allow the devil to enter or when God uses the devil to test worshippers’ beliefs. In either case, it is the devil who directly causes sickness. Christian treatment is through scripture, communal and individual prayer, and expurgation. Diagnosis and treatment thus reflect both theodicy and the emergence of a kind of devil culture in the context of rural social crises.

Hardin, “Spiritual Etiologies”

Hardin, Jessica. 2014. Spiritual Etiologies: Metabolic Disorders, Evangelical Christianity, and Well-Being in Samoa. Doctoral Dissertation, Dept. of Anthropology. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University. 

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.

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.