W3: Contextual Understanding of Science, Religion, and Health

Before taking this class, I have thought about the relationship between science, religion, and healing. In my life, and probably along with most others, I have a good balance of those who believe strongly in the relationship and those who strongly appose it. Living in the United States, western medication primarily focuses on the biological reasons for sickness and cures (Gabriel, 2016). However, there are other cultures that believe that integrating religious practices can also cure sickness. For example, in one particular African culture, the “Ju’hoansi will gather together and have a healing dance” (Gabriel, 2016). The healers that participate in the dance eventually reach a state that allows them to go around everyone in the circle to be touched and healed. This healing happens at different levels, including the spiritual, emotional and psychological, and bodily levels. When asking them about the causes of illnesses, individuals in this culture could relate the illness back to social problems. The healing dances performed are a solution to fixing some of these social problems (Gabriel, 2016).

As seen from the ritual of healing dances, it can be understood that there is a spiritual element to the healing process in the Ju’hoansi culture. This is vastly different from that of an American standpoint that views all sickness as only curable by biomedicine and methods relating to the sort. In conjunction, “The Western approach to medicine clearly divides health from disease and the main emphasis is on the individual body…Physicians are trained mainly for the care of acute phases of disease, that is, disease detection and therapy” (Tsuei, 1978). In my own personal experiences, I have seen how this is absolutely true. When an individual is sick in American society, they go to the doctor’s office. However, as mentioned in the source above, doctors are primarily trained to treat an illness from a biomedical perspective, not a social or cultural one. Finding this kind of treatment is rare and must be sought out by the sick individual his or herself in America. Primary physicians will not give this kind of care.

So, instead of exploring the relationship between science, religion, and healing as a whole, it would be better to explore the relationship in different contexts. What one culture believes about the relationship will not be the same as what another believes. It also does not make one culture right and one culture wrong, just different. I believe that a lot can be learned from each other and taking the time to understand each other’s views about the relationship between the three will lead to a more holistic view of how to cure individuals and ultimately be the most successful.


Gabriel, Cynthia. “Cartesian Duality, Biomedicine, and Spirit.” Presentation for the course ANP 370: Culture, Health, and Illness, 2016.

Tsuei, Julia J. “Eastern and Western Approaches to Medicine,” West J Med 128 (1978): 552.

5 thoughts on “W3: Contextual Understanding of Science, Religion, and Health

  1. Hi Grace, I enjoyed reading your post and agree physicians should take on a more holistic approach to treating illnesses. I also like how you address that each culture has different views on how treatments and therapies should be carried out and none of them are necessarily wrong. I believe everyone should follow the approach of cultural relativism meaning that people realize there are different cultures and each has its own way of doing things but each culture has a value and none are better than the next. Once everyone realizes this, it will be easier to more fully integrate ideas and possibly create superior methods of care. Also, an issue with so many people running to the doctors in America as soon as they get sick is the increasing amount of antibiotic resistant bacteria being created due to the overuse of medications (Lecture 3.2). It is sad so many new drugs have to be created every day in order to combat bacteria which used to be able to be treated with a different drug. In a biology course I took, we studied soil samples from zoo animal exhibits, and it was surprising to see the amount of antibiotic resistant bacteria contained in the soil alone. Drugs can be very effective at treating illnesses, but they are not the only beneficial treatment possible.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your opinion and outlook on this weeks material. I also agree that everything in medicine is looked at in different ways, based on ones culture and religious background and how they were brought up to think. It definitely is important to look at a person as a whole and not as just their illness. Our society has focused a lot on treatment and using drugs and overusing antibiotics, instead of holistic natural approaches. It seems like the easy way out is to just keep curing the patient with any type of miracle drug, but that does not cure the actual person individually. You are right when you say that no cultures practices are superior or inferior to one another, but unique in their own way. This is something that our world has trouble seeing, in every aspect of life. We look at each other as being different in all the wrong ways instead of seeing the positives and interesting things being each human. In order to treat someone, all of this has to be understood and practiced, that every person has their own mind and their own way of seeing things.

  3. Hi Grace!
    I found it really insightful when you commented that the ideal situation would be for such differing medicinal viewpoints to learn from each other. I think this is especially relevant to individuals like many of us, who have been raised with a strong influence in western bio-medicine. If I recall correctly, in our acupuncture documentary, one of the Chinese nurses explained that for certain ailments they treated with acupuncture. With other illnesses, still, they began with a little western medicine, and tried acupuncture if the western medicine approach had been unsuccessful. I have been noticing many American physicians utilizing alternative approaches in their own practices as well. For example, my doctor’s office uses acupuncture, herbs, and tinctures as additional approaches to their traditional pharmaceuticals. However, I find this to be less prevalent in America and a relatively new concept. I agree with your point that, if both philosophies were willing to work together and learn from each other, we could have a phenomenal healthcare system. Western biomedicine offers the highly intellectual and advanced findings of biochemistry and the body, while more eastern medicine has mastered the concepts of the mind and spirit in relation to physical wellbeing. With our strong physical understanding, and their strong emotional understanding, I think we would be able to create an excellent holistic understand.
    Great work!
    Lexi Parenti

  4. Hi Grace,
    In the first paragraph, you mentioned that the Ju’hoansi people relate illness to social causes. I think this is something that Western medicine lacks. For example, stress could be considered a social cause of illness, yet many people fail to recognize the impact that stress has on illness and instead attribute their illness to biological factors. I agree with the point you made about looking at the relationship between science, religion, and healing in different contexts. It is hard to compare the effectiveness of different therapies across cultures because the beliefs surrounding the therapies will be different and these beliefs could potentially influence the effectiveness of the treatment. I also agree with your point about understanding different people’s views on different types of treatments. You can see an example of this with the recent increase in the use of acupuncture for pain relief. Many people once thought of it as unhelpful, however, now more people are choosing to use this instead of drugs or other treatments. A friend of mine suffers from terrible migraines. She was tired of taking different medications so she decided to try acupuncture and had wonderful results. I think if Americans had a more open minded approach to alternative therapies, they could see great results.

  5. Hi Grace!
    I think that western medicine falls behind other cultures in the fact that we are not as open to integrating religious, along with other, practices. Medical professionals throughout history have put religion separate and left it up to the patients family to keep up with their religious practice while they only treated the patient. To me, I see religion as almost as important as the rest of the history and problems about the patient. Just as a nurse would ask if something runs in the family, they could easily ask what religion they associate with. At times, a religion could explain their lifestyle, food intake, ethics, job, and other factors. I think another contextual difference is the use of the word “heal”. I don’t think many western doctors see themselves as healing the patient, they see it as treating the problem. When I think of healing someone, I think of it as a whole body experience. Since our society is not based on preventative medicine, we only go to the doctor when something is wrong.Then the doctor only treats what we come in for and not the body as a whole, mind included. I do agree with you that we have a lot to share and learn from other cultures. With that knowledge, only improvements could be made.

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