The relationship between science, religion, and healing is not one that is easily explained. Depending on where you are in the world you will get very different answers. In the United States where medicine is primarily, if not entirely scientific, someone might say that religion has no influence on health. If you were to ask the same question to a tribal healer, the spirits are very important in treatment. The determining factor is how technologically advanced medicine is in a particular region and how readily available those medicines and treatments are to the general public. The more advanced the medicine, the less religion plays a part. Even though religion and health are not as interconnected in the United States, that does not mean that religion has no impact on the overall wellness of an individual.
Rene Descartes describes the mind and body as two separate things. The body is material and the mind is immaterial (Lecture: 3.1). Western biomedicine focuses more on the material body than the immaterial mind. The body responds to physical and chemical treatments which doctors consider to be scientific. Doctors are skeptical in introducing religious and spiritual aspects into their treatments because it is not considered scientific and proper medical practice. However, in certain circumstances this is not necessarily the best for the overall health of the patient. When someone is terminally ill, the last few days or months can be very difficult for the patient’s mental health. The patient can be overwhelmed with material treatments and feel helpless. In these times it is important to focus on keeping both physical and mental health in balance for the overall wellness of the patient.
The placebo effect is an example of how the immaterial mind can trick the body into thinking that it is being healed. When someone is given a placebo and they have a positive response, that does not necessarily mean that they were faking the pain or that they were miraculously healed. This suggests that the mind can influence the healing process without chemical or physical treatments being introduced to the body. According to an article on neurobiology, the placebo effect can be visualized using neuroimaging which shows how the placebo activates regions of the brain linked to the perception of pain and pleasure. In the same way that placebos work, it can be suggested that religion can also impact a person’s health (Beauregard 2007). Whether you look at it scientifically or based on the response of the patient, it can be said that both medicine and religion can influence health.
Mario Beauregard, “Mind does really matter: Evidence from neuroimaging studies of emotional self-regulation, psychotherapy, and placebo effect,” Progress in Neurobiology 81 (2007): 4, accessed July 22, 2016.