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Posted May 27, 2004

Book: Health, Healing, and Religion: A Cross-Cultural Perspective
Author: David Kinsley
Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ, pp.212

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Healing is a central concern for most religions. In almost every culture throughout the world, there remains an inextricable link between the ways in which health, sickness, and healing are related to religious or moral concerns, themes, and practices. In Health, Healing, and Religion, author David Kinsely offers fascinating insight into this special bond. What’s more, Kinsely explores the dichotomy and interrelationship between modern, scientific medicine and earlier or alternative forms of medicine, stressing the ways in which aspects of traditional medicine and healing persist in modern medicine.

More specifically, Health, Healing and Religion

Present important themes and characteristics in traditional medical cultures that illustrate the interrelatedness of religion, health, and healing.

Discusses Christianity while showing how many of the characteristics of traditional cultures apply to Christian materials.

Examines modern medical culture, illustrating how it is characterized by many traditional features.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Pathography as a Meaningful Act

Writing about one’s illness and death can be a meaningful act in itself. In many phathographies it is evident that the authors have taken the occasion of writing a journal of their experiences as an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of their illness. A pathography is almost never written simply to record the illness experience. It is written, to a great extent, as a way of coping with and making sense of one’s illness. The act of writing a pathography becomes part of the healing process in the sense of helping the patients find meaning in their predicaments.

In several cases, the authors of phathographies are also consciously taking on the roles of mentor and exemplar. Several authors are explicit in saying that they have written about their experiences in order to help others in similar situations. For them, the meaning of an illness can be found in helping others by relating, confession, and pondering the illness experience; the authors consider this therapeutic for others. Bernice Kavinoky, the author of Voyage and Return, which recounts her experiences with cancer, wrote:

This was a book that had to be written. I wrote it originally for myself, because it clarified my thinking and emotions. Then I began to ponder over it and felt perhaps it was for everybody — not only those who had my operation, but everyone who had been through an experience of shock and loss, and who eventually — after the flying of flags and lifting of the chin — had to face it, in his own waiting room alone.

Maintaining a semblance of human dignity when confronted with life-threatening illness and death, maintaining a sense of meaning and purpose in the face of increasing disability and bouts of great pain and fear, is a perennial and intense human need that arises in every society and culture. Pathographical literature testifies to the persistence of this need in our own culture. In most societies and scenarios we have looked at, it is met in the context of medical treatment. Healers are also often religious specialists who understand that healing must help patients make sense of their illness. Modern medical professionals do not easily play this traditional role. It is not surprising, therefore that when we hear the voice of the modern patient, we find the need being addressed by the patients themselves. Scientifically sound and technologically sophisticated modern medicine is stunning in many ways. That it often lacks the basic healing strengths of older, nonscientific, traditional medical systems, however, is also clear when we listen to the voices of some of its patients.

Table of Contents:

Part One: Traditional Cultures

Chapter 1 Theories of disease and types of healers

Chapter 2 Shamanic healing

Chapter 3 Individual healers

Chapter 4 Healing among the Kalahari Kung

Chapter 5 Healing ceremonies among the Navaho

Chapter 6 Healers and healing rituals among the Zinacanteco

Chapter 7 Demonology: Healing scenarios from North India

Chapter 8 Central themes in traditional healing

Part Two: Christianity

Chapter 9 Jesus as healer

Chapter 10 Healing in the Christian tradition after Jesus

Chapter 11 Saints and healing shrines

Chapter 12 Contemporary Christian faith healers

Chapter 13 Healing in contemporary North American Christianity

Part Three: Modern Medical Culture

Chapter 14 Aspects of the healer/therapist’s role in modern psychotherapy

Chapter 15 The placebo effect: ritual and symbol in modern medicine

Chapter 16 The ideology of modern medial culture

Chapter 17 The medicalization of morality: modern medicine as secular religion

Chapter 18 The search for meaning in modern medicine: the patient speaks