W3: Differing Views of the Relationship Between Science, Religion, and Healing

Depending on where you are in the world, the relationship between science, religion, and healing can vary greatly.  In some cultures, when an individual is ill, many aspects are taken into consideration.  From physical ailments to what social experiences the individual is having, to how they are feeling mentally/emotionally and spiritually, many different facets of an individual are treated in order to help them regain their health.  However, in other cultures, nothing but the physical ailments are considered when someone is ill.  Pharmaceutical drugs are prescribed, or other biomedical treatments, but nothing outside of treating the person physically is even considered for the most part.

In Western medicine, such as the biomedical practices in the United States, the body is separated from the mind and spirit.  This division is known as the Cartesian Duality, which was developed by the French philosopher Rene Descartes (Lecture 1).  Descartes opinion, an opinion that can still be seen in today’s biomedical practices, was that the soul was for religion and not to be involved in medicine (Lecture 1).  This duality can be seen in the quoted interaction between Dr. Arthur Kleinman and his female patient (Lecture 1).  This doctor would not even let his patient speak about her mental, emotional, or spiritual needs and feelings, he was only concerned about discussing the physical aspects of her health and illness.

On the other hand, many other health systems around the world take a more holistic approach to treating ill patients: they don’t separate the body from the mind, but instead treat the person as a whole.  Two examples of this holistic approach can be seen in the Ju½‘hoansi of Botswana and Namibia and in traditional Chinese medicine.  The Ju½‘hoansi have a night long healing dance about once a week, more or less, where the healers enter an altered state while dancing (SAN (Bushman) Healing Dance Botswana Africa, 2012).  During this altered state is when they have the ability to physically heal someone, as well as heal any social riffs that could also be negatively affecting the individual.  Through this healing method, religion is closely tied in to the health of individuals.

Similarly, traditional Chinese medicine also seeks to treat the individual as a whole (Lecture 2).  One method that is used in traditional Chinese medicine is acupuncture (BBC Documentary, 2014).  This treatment has been found to be affective at treating many different health issues, including blocking pain and allowing a patient to stay conscious during open heart surgery (BBC Documentary, 2014).  According to the video “The Science of Acupuncture”, it has been proven through different scientific studies that acupuncture is an effective treatment for many different painful conditions, such as chronic migraines.  The thought process behind acupuncture is: “Traditional Chinese medicine explains acupuncture as a technique for balancing the flow of energy or life force — known as qi or chi (CHEE) — believed to flow through pathways (meridians) in your body. By inserting needles into specific points along these meridians, acupuncture practitioners believe that your energy flow will re-balance” (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2015).  The incorporation of Chi into traditional medicinal practices through acupuncture, or the treatment of “medically unexplained symptoms” with traditional Chinese medicine (Fritzsche, 2011), shows a very strong relationship between science, religion, and healing.


“Acupuncture.” – Mayo Clinic. February 21, 2015. Accessed July 22, 2016. http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/acupuncture/basics/definition/prc-20020778.


One thought on “W3: Differing Views of the Relationship Between Science, Religion, and Healing

  1. Hello Lucy,
    I agree with your starting point that too often our medical system treats patients as machines with malfunctions. The human body is crazy, from how different people can deal with stress and damage, to how one wound can kill one person but not another. Study upon study has shown that reducing stress, which can be in a number of ways with the biggest being religion and spirituality, can lead to many positive health outcomes for the patients. For the acupuncture thing, I find it fascinating that most of Western medicine just kind of wrote it off. This happened, only for the West to come to find that the maps for where to stick the needles almost exactly mirrors the locations of nerves in the human body. This is all from a time when knowing that through observation would be impossible. The interplay between science, healing, and religion is huge and acupuncture is a fantastic example of this, as you said. My question regarding these situations is always what else do we not know about healing properties of various things because we write it off as a ‘folk remedy’ or something similar. What next big discovery are we missing because it doesn’t obviously fit into our biomedical model of western medicine?

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