William Bynum

Religion and Healing in America

Review by 2005.Jenn Lindsay and Derrick Muwina, 2011

Religion and Healing in America. By Linda L. Barnes and Susan Starr Sered. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.



The editors of Religion and Healing in America, Linda Barnes and Susan Sered, present their “efforts to bring together, for the first time, a thoroughly multidisciplinary and multicultural discussion of religious healing in the United States” [4]. The Introduction lays out the diversity and pluralism of religious healing in Americas, noting that prior to European colonizers, Native Americans “practiced well-established healing traditions” [ibid.], and in the ensuing centuries as immigrating groups of varied influence and resources arrived on the continent, “each group brought its own healing traditions, which already represented mixtures of local and cosmopolitan, elite and folk, and indigenous and colonial practices” [5]. Thus healing in America has always been far from homogenous, although the dominant healing paradigm promotes the economic trends and “principle interpretive frames” [22] of the profiting class. Thus marginalized and impoverished demographics have suffered less access to mainstream healing practices—namely, traditional Western biomedicine—and resorted to more accessible and familiar healing practices within their own communities. Religious and spiritual healing practices are linked to larger social movements, as when New Age and self-help movements empowered holistic and contemporary medicine movements, and when the feminist movements enabled women to bring their expertise from social work and community service vocations into religiously ordained leadership positions. The editors confront the challenges of defining such words as “religion,” “spirituality,” “healing,” and “curing,” noting that the significance of these words vary between communities and express that healing systems have different goals. While curing usually responds to a resolution of a physical ailment,

healing “can mean the direct, unequivocal, and scientifically measurable cure of physical illnesses…the alleviation of pain…coping, coming to terms with, or learning to live with [illness and trauma]…reestablishment of self-worth, connection with one’s tradition, personal empowerment…repairing one’s relationships…purification…eternal salvation, or submission to God’s will” [10].

The editors recognize that for most systems described in this book, healing transcends curing. But because of the multivocality of these terms, the editors decided not to restrict these terms to certain definitions. They restrict their study to exploring specific methodologies (the what of each system) and results thereof (the why). They observe that most of the healing vignettes report a changed thought process about a given affliction, inferring that healing is largely a process of cognitive framing, expressed through a shifted narrative or expanded spiritual and anatomical consciousness; this broadened perspective leads, in some communities, to increased social solidarity or ethical commitment. Barnes and Sered are curious about the roles and methods of healers; the sites of healings; healing system syncretism between and within cultural groups; and the link between individual experiences and “wider cultural, symbolic, social and cosmic forces” [17]. Each article in some way considers “illness as a manifestation of social forces” [18]. The editors divide the book’s collection of vignettes in five sections: Sites of Healing, Healing From Structural Violence; Gendering of Suffering and Healing; Synergy, Syncretism and Appropriation; and Intersections with Medical and Psychotherapeutic Discourse. This book review will offer brief summaries of each vignette in an effort to characterize the thematic concerns of each category.

I. Sites of Healing

The six articles of this section are concerned with specific locations of healing systems, both domestic and public. In The Cult of the Saints and the Reimagination of the Space and Time of Sickness in Twentieth-Century American Catholicism Robert Orsi explores connections between experiences of sickness, suffering and healing and Catholic devotion to saints. His source material is letters placed on shrines of various saints and he charts a theme of theodical justifications and causations related to these active saints: “distressed people draw on the language and gestures of the cult of the saints to construct a world of meaning and practice in opposition to the meaning and practices the dominant cultures—medical, technological, religious—impose on them” [30]. He explores the dimensions of time (as duration of illness) and space (the setting of pain and care) of accessing saintly power for healing, noting that this is primarily a meaning-making mechanism.

In “The Spiritual Healing Project”: A Study of the Meaning of Spiritual Healing in the United Church of Christ, the authors assess dedicated healing groups within the UCC denomination, some of which engage intercessory prayer. Their methodology is a collection of healing narratives, and “all the stories dealt in some way with the recognition of God’s presence or action and a deep sense of healing” [51]. Apparently the very study, in which groups convened for informal data-gathering via the sharing of narratives, was in itself a therapeutic exercise for participants as they recognized in each other’s common themes: “surrender, acceptance, surprise, transformation, the experience of peace, the experience of God’s healing presence and love, the use of prayer in the healing process, and an absence of emphasis on the role of suffering” [54]. These stories preserved the mystery of the healing process and exemplified the internal shift that always accompanied healing, even if a cure was not achieved.

The vignettes of Ritual Magic: Two Diverse Approaches to Inner Healing in the Cambodian American Community “present specific ways in which Cambodian refugees are responding to some of the negative social forces of their lives” and reveal an underlying theme of “purification of the psyche, a cleansing of the old, and a renewal of spirit”[60]. Both see closure to a cycle of suffering. One occurs in the bedroom of an aged Cambodian Buddhist monk where his son visits for a healing ceremony “intended to change Saveoun’s luck and to rid his mind of the negative influences that has been holding him back” [63]. The second vignette charts the reclamation of personal power as administered by a Cambodian member of Long Beach Wicca Church, wherein rituals cleanse “negative spiritual and emotional energy” [ibid.] by accessing the four elements, blessing personal sacred objects, lighting candles, and invoking the power of life-giving deities.

Multiple religious traditions converge in the homebirth setting; Procreating Women and Religion: The Politics of Spirituality, Healing and Childbirth in America notes that proponents of the home birth movement “are fashioning their religious interpretations of childbirth largely outside of the context of official religious institutions” [72], but also find tensions between traditionalist and feminist elements. Whereas the surrounding chapters of this volume tend to chart ethnographic observations and deduct larger trends, this chapter uses the phenomenon of home birth to explore theoretical questions about feminism, defining “women’s cares” and identities, language, body/spirit interactions, and the difference between religion and spirituality. While these explorations are worthwhile the article cannot contain them and it seems to get off track in its painstaking care to justify its own terms; the most productive and lucid aspects of the essay examine the narratives and conflicts of the Christian, orthodox Jewish and lesbian midwives who populate the movement of homebirths, and the intersections of birthing, mothering and activism.

Healing into Wholeness in the Episcopal Church presents a far more efficient approach to differentiating healing and curing; this very topic is an abiding concern for many involved in questions of religion and healing. The Public Service of Healing presented in this essay examines a service that combines structured liturgy, brief pastoral counseling, a laying on of hands and intercessory cure. The interlocutors of this essay “see ‘curing’ as end of disease or illness and ‘healing’ as an experience of transformation, peace, or improved relationships with other people or God” [95]. Mystery is central to this experience, as church figures “do not do the work of healing, God does [97]… the healer releases what is already within the person being healed” [98]. Ultimately, “not everyone who asks for prayer is cured, but everyone is healed in some form or another” [ibid.]. Such a declaration of unilateral efficacy brings a hopeful certainty to those who participate in these healing services and helps them realize that we are “always well” [99].

Miraculous Migrants to the City of Angels: Perceptions of El Santo Niño de Atocha and San Simón as Sources of Help and Healing “examines some of the ways that the veneration of a pair of miraculous spirits—El Santo Niño de Atocha and San Simón—is incorporated into Latino vernacular religion and healing traditions in Love Angeles and related to social, familial, and somatic dimensions of migrants’ experiences” [104]. El Santo Niño de Atocha, a saint invoking the Christ Child is petitioned for many reasons but “the vast majority of the objects left at the shrine related to issues of physical and mental health” [108]. San Simón is becoming chief among “the multitude of immigrant gods, spirits and saints” (111) and his shrines are showered with paraphernalia thought to invoke his good favor such as cigarettes, candies, candles and flowers. These saints are regarded as causation for problems working out, for experiences of empowerment and success; “they address fundamental human concerns in effective and meaningful ways” [117].

II. Healing From Structural Violence

This section, given the extent to which systemic injustice, resource asymmetry and power imbalance is addressed in this volume’s introduction, explores a trend that greatly perturbs the editors. The vignettes herein explicate the ways in which prevailing power dynamics, dominant and oppressive cultural mores, and gradations of violence affect health and healing practices.

In “God Made a Miracle in My Life”: Latino Pentecostal Healing in the Borderlands the authors use the healing ministry of “one of the most famous Pentecostal healing evangelists, Francisco Olazábal” [123], noting that the key to his ministry “and those of other Latino Pentecostal faith-healing evangelists lie in their emphasis on the holistic relationship between body, mind and spirit, and their conviction that sickness, disease and illness are the result of supernatural forces” [ibid.]. The supernatural is the cause of all good and evil in this framework, and the authors position the urgency of healing in the Latino community by noting that “Latino socioeconomic conditions also help explain the early attraction and growth of Pentecostalism…acute illnesses and chronic physical disabilities left fully one-third of all Mexicans poverty-stricken…the economic reasons for seeking healing is clear” [125]. Thus charismatic preachers such as Olazábal engage altar calls, revival settings and ecstatic practices such as speaking in tongues to excite his congregants to some form of healing experience. The authors systematically address aspects of his ministry that show that healing is an active and functioning “part of the fabric and narrative” [136] of Pentecostalism and beyond.

The Gathering of Traditions: The Reciprocal Alliance of History, Ecology, Health, and the Community among the Contemporary Chumash broaches the difficulty of Californio/Chumash mixed-heritage American Indians, given dominant colonialist tendencies to engage reductionist methods to summarize cultural systems or dilute the poignancy of a traditional system because it is syncretic in some way. Julianne Cordero describes particular ritual items and terms from the Barbareño Chumash, sketches a “decolonized methodology for gathering human traditions” and develops an overview of Chumash folkways by combining Chumash texts and blending choice ethnographies of the community. Finally, she describes Chumash living practices specifically intended to overthrow previous descriptions that she considers reductive or dismissive because they are reported in so-called “unreliable and subjective” narratives that are dismissed, along with the community itself, as inauthentic. Cordero sees the living practice of the Chumash oceangoing canoe, the tomol. While physical healing is not in this section, Cordero’s spirited decolonization of accounts of Chumash lifeways serve as a therapeutic mechanism that restores humanity and visibility to this community.

Religious Healing among War-Traumatized African Immigrants “explores religious healing among recent Somali and Great Lakes/Congolese African refugee and immigrants in the United States” [159]. Given the hardships of enduring poverty, persecution and violent uprooting from their native wartorn continent, the influx of African immigrants to the US and the degree of trauma embodied by this population makes healing a prescient topic for newly American Africans. This chapter claims that “unresolved traumas and lingering memories of conflict not only threaten to exacerbate the cycles of violence within the immigrants’ societies of origin but also have the potential to afflict the American social fabric…traumas and the resulting memory constructions in immigrants should concern scholars, practitioners, and policy makers alike” [ibid.]. A series of vignettes is presented concerning Somali and Congolese immigrant trauma; they “represent a range of religious responses to trauma experience and memory that can serve as a basis for further action” [160] Four lines of inquiry are pursued: ethnographic description of trauma experience, repercussions of unprocessed trauma, how involvement in religious community supports coming to terms with and integrating traumatic experience, and healing pilgrimages that have varied efficacy in healing efforts.

The Haitian community is addressed in Making Wanga: Reality Constructions and the Magical Manipulation of Power, which opens with a vignette of violence against Louima, a Haitian immigrant in NYC and his subsequent healing by Mama Lola, “a respected Haitian Vodou priestess and healer living in Brooklyn” [174] who reconfigures the Louima’s luck “through the manufacture of two types of wanga (charms) drawn from her repertoire of ritual healing practices, one based on a coconut and the other a pigeon” [176]. Such a ritual is secretive and its secrecy is operative in the process of changing human relationships and power dynamics; the quality of the change falls more into this volume’s description of healing than curing. “The power of the wanga is largely discursive; it is the power to rewrite the existential narrative at issue” [181]. A changing point of view has the power to shift a problematic situation; secrecy thus functions to empower realms of specialized and selectively revealed knowledge, which is felt as power. The chapter explores uses of wanga in political cases of police brutality, engaging a paradoxical dance of secrecy and transparency that confused the dominant information channels of the mainstream press press, the judicial system, and police review processes. Magic is a realm where standardized, rational thought processes do not succeed, and thus it is a realm of freedom for the Vodou practitioner into which the dominant interpretive paradigm cannot intrude. By hiding information in the folds of a stigmatized ritual, the wanga brings power to its community, and then solidarity and a sense of agency, not to mention wariness from existing power structures that might, so says the Vodou way, be a point of advantageous vulnerability.

“To be healed is to have hope. To offer healing is to offer hope. And hope is that state wherein we know that some kind of response or change or reconciliation or transformation is possible” [195]. So says “Our Work is Change for the Sake of Justice”: Hope Community, Minneapolis, Minnesota, an essay that explores the efforts of the staff of a homeless women’s helter “to offer its members a sense of power over their own lives and the skills to take that power to the public arena” [196]. The essay describes the Hope history, presents two case studies of “healing realizations” [ibid.], strategies implementing healing successes, and the resilience of the Hope culture in the always-changing climate and culture of the shelter. Hope denizens refuse “soft” characterizations of their healing; their method is tough, candid, “funny and wise and relentless” [197] that grounds hope in reality, in what is seen, in what is both transcendent and actualizable. It engages “the need for a change of consciousness about the nature of reality in order to make something new out of one’s circumstance” [2020]. At Hope, creativity and imaginative reframing of challenge is the fulcrum of healing.

The elaborate public rituals of the Chicano tradition of Días de los Muertos, or Days of the Dead form the centerpiece of Communing with the Dead: Spiritual and Cultural Healing in Chicano/a Communities. The rituals that engage deceased loved ones in communion and conversation replenish Chicano/as with new life and hope, and “the reinvention of transitional ways to express contemporary concerns renews and re-centers a people hungry for spiritual nourishment in their ongoing struggle for justice healing” [205]. The chapter follows a 1998 Day of the Dead celebration in East Los Angeles at a Chicano/a community art center, where the political and spiritual merge. “For a historically subordinated population, publically remembering their ancestors takes on political meaning as the geneology being honored is indigenous and of mixed blood, a geneology not intended to survive in the Western World” [206]. This essay explores the ways in which traditions are repeated and revitalized through revision in an expression of cultural communion across the boundaries of space and time that communicates solidarity and interdependence on an eternal, and thus indomitable level. The Day of the Dead prevents the obliteration of this community’s past because its ancient power is always accessible and always potent in a way the oppressor cannot fathom.

Spirituality and Aging in the San Francisco Japanese Community sketches the caretaking methods of a skilled nursing facility in Berkeley, CA that is rigorously attentive to the cultural and spiritual needs of their residents, which in the essay takes specific form as an intentional reinfusion of Japanese cultural attributes with medical care for Japanese elders. The essay describes a unique experiment designed by the Japanese America Religious Federation of San Francisco in partnership with the Graduate Theological Union and the skilled nursing facility. The experiment proffered a curriculum for caretakers and seminarians that fused pastoral care, physical therapeutic processes, and culturally-specific interactions around “calligraphy, massage, tea ceremony, storytelling, folk songs, and hand dance, all of which provided a window into Japanese life” [220]. The experiment benefited both caretakers and those cared for, revitalizing a community core amongst those trained for deeper patient-centered care and creating a crucible for an ethic of community-wide, culturally nuanced elder care.

III. Gendering of Suffering and Healing

This section has chapters on gender, suffering and healing from various cultural and religious traditions. In Healing as Resistance: Reflections upon new forms of American Jewish Healing, Susan S. Sered writes about the nascent Jewish healing movement in the United States. This healing movement is part of the cultural movement towards alternative medicine. Jewish healing events are come in various forms; community sponsored rituals, private healing sessions, synagogue-based healing services, and small-group healing rituals. The aim in these rituals is healing and not curing: that is attending to the whole person, the emotional, psychological, religious, social and cultural dimensions of the person. Women and gay men are playing a large part in this movement. Jewish healing subverts both biomedicine and conventional Judaism.

Writing on Healing in Feminist Wicca, Grove Harris claims that healing in feminist witchcraft takes many forms and occurs in many settings. Healing techniques include “massages, spells such as herbal charms, chanting, dancing, trance work, and energetic healing through connecting to others and to the earth’s forces” [253]. Wiccan cosmology invokes the sacred elements of fire, air, water and earth and summons their powers to heal various problems and restore people’s connection with the wide world of nature and other people.

“What does it mean to become healed from homosexuality and gain a new ex-gay identity?” This is the subject of the chapter Sexual Healing: Self-Help and Therapeutic Christianity in the Ex-Gay Movement by Tanya Erzen. Based on fieldwork conducted over eighteen months at New Hope Ministries in San Francisco, Erzen chronicles her research on healing directed at “healing” gay men from homosexuality. New Hope and the ex-gay movement, concludes Erzen, “have created a religious culture of therapy for troubled individuals in an increasingly fragmented world through an emphasis on self-help and healing” [279].

Gender and Healing in Navajo Society by Thomas J. Csordas explore the role of three Navajo women healers, each with a distinctive approach to healing; Traditional Navajo, Native American Church and Christian. Navajo women healers are unique among healers because they are women, and unique among women because they are healers.

In “Jesus is My Doctor”: Healing and Religion in African American Women’s Lives Stephanie Y. Mitchem explores black women’s beliefs in faith healing. She offers a brief exploration of the epistemological frameworks through which African American women understand faith and healing. This chapter arose from interviews Mitchem carried out among black women in the Chicago area from 1996 to 2003. In this chapter Mitchem, argues that faith for African American women is “an active, powerful, protective, creative partnership with a God who loves completely and without reservation…Faith in “Doctor” Jesus is neither superstitious nor contradictory when grounded in such social and ideological understandings” [281]. African American women understand faith healing is shaped by race and class which posits African American women as caregivers for others. Since African American women were excluded from the medical profession in the eighteen and twentieth centuries, their folk- based healing activities were generally and systematically eliminated as medicine became established. However, African American folk traditions of healing have continued in various forms.

Part IV. Synergy, Syncretism and Appropriation

Linda Barnes writes about Chinese healing in the chapter, Multiple Meanings of Chinese Healing in the United States. Chinese Healing takes many forms. Acupuncture, herbs, divination, relationship with the dead, medicinal understandings of food and practices such as taijiquan and qigong, have upon arrival in the United States generated complex systems. But what is it that makes some forms of healing more transferable than others? The construction of race and the emergence of “Chineseness” within the predominant category of race, blackness and whiteness as central organizing principles, the manner in which Chinese healing practices in the United States interface with issues of religious identity and expressions for Chinese American practitioners, the tension between conversion and appropriation, and finally, medicalization.

In Rituals of Healing in African American Spiritual Churches, Claude F. Jacobs examines rituals of healing in African American churches with a focus on practices and traditions that are tied to particular aspects of the African American experience as typified in Spiritual churches. Secrecy coupled with a dearth of written records makes it extremely difficult to arrive at a precise number and social location of people consulting spiritual healers and as such this article was a product of formal and informal interviews, observation and participation in worship services, and ethnohistorical research. A product of the early twentieth century, Spiritual churches have drawn ideas from Roman Catholicism, Pentecostalism, New Thought, African Religions and nineteenth-century spiritualism. Asymmetry is the best way to describe what goes on at worship services of Spiritual churches. Rather than blend various traditions, asymmetry refers to switching from one orientation to another, in keeping with the African American expressive style.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine in America’s “Two Buddhisms” is about folk healing methods associated with complementary alternative medical practices among US Buddhists with special focus on herbalism and spiritual/supramundane healing as practiced by cultural Buddhists and convert Buddhists. Cultural Buddhists come from several Asian countries while convert Buddhists were normally raised in another religion and have chosen Buddhism as their new faith. Given the different historical, person and socioreligious contexts of the two groups, their understanding of Buddhism differs. Some monks offer spiritual advice and ritual services to temple members, but the practice is often downplayed. Leaders of temples are most likely to enforce and promote a purified form of Buddhism. Despite these restrictions however, there is widespread use of amulets, herbs, etc. Asian Buddhists tend to combine Western medicine with CAM while giving weight to the former. Third generation Asian Buddhist are most to favor Western medicine. Asian Buddhist communities tend to be stable whereas convert Buddhist may not maintain the momentum. As such, Asian Buddhism is poised to influence the American health care system more than convert Buddhism.

La Mesa del Santo Niño de Atocha and the Conchero Dance Tradition of Mexico-Tenochtitlán: Religious Healing in Urban Mexico and the United States, by Inés Hernández-Ávila traces the roots of the Conchero dance tradition. This dance, whether in Mexico City or urban areas of the United States, “manifests a process of religious healing that is not only collective and individual but also earthcentric yet cosmic” [359]. Chicana/o are retrieving their cultural heritage and finding their way back to what is already theirs from Conchero elders and dancers, and shifting their perspective from a heavily western bias to a more Native American one. In the United States Conchera “is performed, celebrated, and espoused as a legacy of the Aztec tradition and as an authentic Chicana/Chicano spiritual expression of indigenousness” [360].

Subtle Energies and the American Metaphysical Tradition by Robert Fuller analyzes the healing system of “subtle energies,” Chiropractic Medicine, The Holistic Health Movement, and New Age Energy Healing, and argues that “these alternative healing systems are prime carriers of the American metaphysical tradition” [383]. Alternative healing systems that utilize “subtle energies” have their antecedents in the American metaphysical tradition, beginning with Transcendentalism, and Swenborgianism in the 1930-40s. In recent times, chiropractic practitioners have abandoned Palmer’s metaphysical framework and thus have brought chiropractic medicine into public acceptance, professional recognition, and access to insurance industry.

In Taking Seriously the Nature of Religious Healing in America Edith Turner writes from her experience and narrates episodes of healing that she and other researches have experienced in the course of their work. Turner, argues that people are coming alive to the healing powers of the Earth and in fact Western society largely seeks alternative experiences to those offered by science. A real philosophy of religion has to be based on experience. The existence of religious healing must affect the philosophy of religion. Anthropologists have experienced things such as impossible healing and have seen ghosts and had visions.

In Dimensions of Islamic Religious Healing in America, Marcia Hermansen considers spiritual healing, dream interpretation, and Sufi psychological practices and frameworks among South Asian and Arab Sufi Muslims in Chicago. The majority of Muslims in America see Islam as a complete system, and hence ideas of health and healing are understood within the teachings of Islam. Some Muslims adopt Western scientific frameworks; they normally drew clear demarcation of what is and it not acceptable. Biomedical issues, however, raises ethical complexities. Some Muslims attempt to uncover Islamic teachings on health from the Hadith or “prophetic medicine” [409].

In Health, Faith Traditions, and South Asian Indians in North America, Prakash N. Desai notes that the presence of South Asian Indians has grown in the last two decades of the twentieth century. With them have come religious traditions, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Islam. For most Indians, religion encompasses all areas of life. Hindu medicine, Ayurveda, developed alongside religious thought. Hinduism has a flexible attitude towards solutions and makes a clear dichotomy between the practical and the ideal. When it comes to matters of health, this Hindus attitude ensures that Hindus seeking help will readily seek Western medicine especially in acute illness. However, Ayurvedic conceptions of health continue to thrive. The family is the organizing principle among Indians. With incomes large than an average American household, Indians in America travel back and forth between India and America, thus traditionalizing the home. This applies to matters of health, food, ethics, and sexuality. While South Asian Indians have responded to American cultural differently, overidentification, assimilation and outright rejection, in matters of health, they seek whatever works best.

In their chapter, Hmong Shamanism: Animist Spiritual Healing in America’s Urban Heartland, Phua Xiong, Charles Numrich, Chu Yongyuan Wu, Deu Yang, and Gregory A. Plotnikoff, argue that “given the suspension between worlds in which Hmong Americans find themselves, it becomes a pressing matter to understand how Hmong religious and healing traditions are decontextualized – or recontexualized – in the United States” [440]. They ask whether traditional supports for healing have weakened or strengthened. This chapter is based on research carried out in 1999 in Minneapolis and St Paul Minnesota for the purpose of understanding 1) sustained Hmong shamanism, how it has changed or remained the same, 2) how patients chose health care given the choice between traditional shamans and biomedicine.

In Spirituality and the Healing of Addictions: A Shamanic Drumming Approach, Michael Winkelman explores the role of spirituality and the healing of addictions with special focus on Shamanic drumming. Spiritual healing is a main component of addictions healing. Studies suggest that “spiritual engagement provides a preventative factor against substance abuse and facilitates recovery” [455]. Religious activities impact health through behavioral, psychosocial and psychodynamic mechanisms. Drumming and shamanic activities may enhance recovery from addiction through a variety of psychological, social, and physiological mechanism. Some drummers accredit drumming with reducing teen gang violence and enhanced school participation. Shamanic drumming can enable Altered State of Consciousness in ways that spiritual components of addiction programs like Alcoholic Anonymous cannot.

The Healing Gene by Kaja Finkler explores the phenomenon of the growing link between spirituality and healing, contrary to predictions that religion would recede in the light of scientific rationalism. The impact of religion has been such that medical schools have introduced courses in spirituality and medicine and the number of medical practitioners who combine spirituality and biomedicine has grown. It is in this context that Kaja Finkler, analyzes the Jewish and Christian religious underpinning of the Human Genome Program (HGP), hailed as the panacea to human ills. Some theologians have argued in favor of the genome program and argued that the program promises to deal with original sin, the cause of disease and death, once and for all. Some have argued still that humans are co-creators with God and cultivating knowledge of the genome is participating in God’s creative process. Finkler, concludes by stating that while we tend to emphasize the differences between religious ideologies and scientific beliefs, despite their similarities, “religious ideologies can be expressed in the guise of scientific beliefs because science is not an acultural system. It is produced by actors who come out of certain religious traditions” [479]. The genome project has its roots in religion as much as it does in science.

VI. Conclusion

In Religion and Healing: The Four Expectations, Martin Marty attempts to answer the question “what precisely do people have in mind when they express the hope or make the claim that their faith has something to do with the understanding of illness and health and the process of healing?” [490]. Marty propose four categories that North American use when speaking about healing. Autogenesis is when disease is represented in naturalistic and humanistic religion. Synergism, the second category, refers to the cooperation of the human and superhuman activity in healing. Here, is found the majority of North Americans.

The third category, Empathy, represents the belief that God experiences with humans. Most of the adherents of this view “tend to have accommodated their religious outlooks to modern scientific viewpoints” [496]. Strictly theological and theocentric the fourth category, Monergism, views God as the sovereign agent who grants and withholds physical healing at will. Recognizing these categories “can help physicians know what to look for and listen for as they observe what patients or health care seekers are drawing upon, claiming or hoping for” [489].

In the afterword, A Physician’s Reflections, Harold G. Koenig, claims that the healing of the whole person requires a multidisciplinary and multicultural approach and sensitivity to the individual’s history, experiences and “the history of the community in which that person is formed” [505]. Biomedicine by itself fails to reach this goal. Thus, integrative medicine is the most practical medical approach for the future. Physicians should pay close attention to patients spiritual and emotional needs and suggest when necessary alternative approaches.


Religion and Healing in America is opus sui generis: there’s nothing else like it. Its panoply of portraits of spiritual healing practices reaffirms the immense diversity of America. It works best not as through-reading but rather as a collection that offers many different starting points for the targeted reader. The essays themselves can only serve as topical entry points; enough are presented that none of them are able to delve too deeply. Although the five categorical groupings of articles helps to contour the book thematically, there is still some unevenness of research and writing quality between the articles, and the perspectives collectively span the editorial gamut from impartial anthropological account to enflamed political sentiment to theoretical meandering. Overall, Religion and Healing in America successfully conveys the inefficacy of Western biomedicine for huge segments of the American population; it also conveys the dogged, imaginative messiness of myriad healing efforts across this large country. After some time with this book one can sense that wellness and bodily health are hugely determinant of quality of life, and therefore the healing and maintenance of them is of paramount importance in every community, even and especially for those who lack resources or access to the dominant medical healing model in the United States. For those skeptical of healing outside of the Western biomedical paradigm, this book will imbue these readers with a sense of the potency, thoroughness, and plentitude of community spiritual health efforts. They will also grasp the patent inevitability of healing movements given the confluence of pragmatic creativity, spiritual conviction and deeply engrained traditions. If there’s a wellness, there are many ways to approach it; that is the message of Religion and Healing in America.