Complexity of Religion, Science, and Healing


Describing the relationship between science, religion, and healing is a complex discussion. Often these things contradict each on another but in some cases they work together in the healing process. In the United States there is a variety of cultures that have different beliefs some cultures rely on in spiritual healing through prayer, spiritual song, and dance while others believe in scientific medicine. There is also a percent of the population who have faith in a mixture of science and religious healing process. As we learned from the readings the people of San as well as Botswana use spiritual dance for the powers of healing. The powers are activated through the dance until a state of consciousness is reached. Religion can also give a patient something to believe in, giving them hope and a more positive health outcome. Lisa R. Yanek, M.P.H., from Johns Hopkins reports that “people with a family history of heart disease who also had a positive outlook were one-third less likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular event within five to 25 years than those with a more negative outlook” (“The Power of Positive Thinking”). As I have briefly mentioned in those of United States have a strong belief in scientific medicine. The spiritual healing is starting to fade out due to the advancement of technology. As we may know there is no clear reasoning as to why there is a correlation religion relates to healing.

From outside resources I have found that African and many other cultures such as Zulu use prayer and Bwiti ceremonies for healing process. These ceremonies and sessions are led by spiritual leaders called N’ganga. I looked more into the spiritual healing because at a young age my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and after many days of prayer sessions with our church my mother visited the doctor and was told that they could not find the source of cancer. I think that if there were signs of cancer that we would have taken scientific measures, such as chemo therapy and radiation. As I have read from one of my fellow classmates I too believe that there needs to be a balance of old world and new world types of healing such as organic that does less harm. Overall I think that the discussion of science, religion, and healing is complex because it is different based upon culture and belief.


“AFRICAN HEALING | The Medicine Practise of Africa.” AFRICAN HEALING | The Medicine Practise of Africa. Accessed July 22, 2016.


Lee, Ton Van Der, dir. “Part 1: The San People of Botswana.” In Spirits of Africa: Preserving Africa’s Spiritual Heritage. 2012. February 3, 2012. Accessed July 21, 2016.



3 thoughts on “Complexity of Religion, Science, and Healing

  1. Robyn,

    I really enjoyed your post. I am elated to read about your mom’s recovery, which is fantastic to know that a community could come together to help make an effort to heal one of their own. I have heard of miracles like that happening before, and I think it’s all about believing in the power of prayer. Just as you stated, of course if alternative healing doesn’t work, it is smart to consider biomedicine. But if one was to grow up solely on alternative medicine, and they have seen it work in the past, we can assume that the hesitation one might face is only natural skepticism. It is hard to find a balance between old-world and new world medicine, especially when taking into consideration someone’s cultural and religious background. I recently read an excerpt of a book by Christopher Dole, called In the Shadows of Medicine and Modernity. He began with the example of WHO, the World Health Organization, implementing biomedicine in Turkey, and the conflict it’s citizens face that have practiced religious healing for ages. On page 256 he asks, “At what point does the physician and esoteric religious man engage one another”? Turning to biomedicine when religious healing doesn’t work could cause a religious and even cultural crisis in some. One can begin to question why religious healing doesn’t work, why the religious man couldn’t heal or save a loved one from an illness? If biomedicine can so easily help and shorten the recovery time, why not solely rely on a physician?

    Dole, Christopher. In the Shadows of Medicine and Modernity: Medical Integration and Secular Histories of Religious Healing in Turkey. 3rd ed. Vol. 28. N.p.: Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, 2004.

  2. Hi Robyn!
    That is crazy to hear that after prayer, they couldn’t find the source of cancer. I hope she is still doing just as well today! I’m not very religious but I definitely agree with Yanek when she says there’s a correlation between positive outlook and health. This related to the balance between scientific modern medicine and organic versions of healing used in certain religions. I also know there have been health miracles, it sounds like your mothers case, where doctors can’t explain how something has happened, so I can’t help but wonder abou religious beliefs being a factor.

  3. Hiya Robyn,
    First of all, congratulations to your mom’s recovery. There is much science doesn’t know, and this is a supreme example of where that isn’t always a bad thing (good result means let’s not worry about the path). I also liked your reference to the real effect positive thinking can have on health. Too often people write off the notion of positive thinking, but more and more evidence shows that it has noticeable positive effects on health of patients and their families. Hope/faith/etc are strong emotions in humans, and sometimes they make all the difference in the world, as they seem to have with your mother.
    As for the culture portion you ended on, I agree. Modern medicine needs to work to position itself in a way to provide the most help to people without trampling over their tradition or religious beliefs. Looking at the power of placeboes where patients just imagine that something will work, I can’t help but wonder what happens when people do not believe in their treatment. Beyond even belief in the treatment and effectiveness, when caregivers are more accepting and work well with their patients beliefs, the relationship between the two is improved.

    Puchalski, Christina M. “The Role of Spirituality in Health Care.” Proceedings (Baylor University. Medical Center). October 14, 2001. Accessed July 24, 2016.

Leave a Reply