W3: Science and Religion: Which is better for healing?

This week we examined the relationship between science, religion, and healing. In America we tend to mainly accept western medicine as the sole way to treat illness. Although we may look at traditional treatment as odd or irrational what we do not realize is that doctors and patients in their culture may think we are odd and irrational. Although I believe western medicine and science to be superior for healing purposes, I also think traditional healing that comes from religious or cultural aspects should not be overlooked, especially for those who believe in it. Take for instance the traditional healers from the San people of Botswana. These people believe that they can be healed from a healing dance (Clip 3.1). They also are treated with herbal medicines, but I find that to be closer to science than spiritual since a lot of herbal medicines do have scientific reasons for why and how they heal. However, going back to the healing dance whether you believe in it or not is probably going to be one of the main factors to whether it works or not. It may work on some people who believe they are actually being healed similar to how people in the United States say they are getting better from taking a fake pill (placebo effect) because they believe in western medicine. The placebo effect has an important role in our medicine, it is used as a baseline to prove efficacy of trial drugs and can be used to treat some mental disorders like hypochondria. Just like our medicine isn’t quick to dismiss the placebo effect, I don’t think we should be quick to dismiss the Botswana healing rituals. It may not actually produce any chemical changes, but may useful as emotional and psychological tool.


Just as the Ju ‘hoansi of Botswana and Namibia use healing rituals (Lecture 3.1) people around the world have turned to various religions and spirits to heal them as well. In three different studies performed on patients with fertility problems, cardiovascular problems and recovery after bypass surgery, three different results were recorded. Prayer was significantly better at improving fertility, no difference in cardiovascular problems, and worse with recovery after bypass (Andrade). Therefore, there is no conclusive evidence that prayer really would make a difference. Coincidentally in class we read about stress causing fertility problems and one scientist advocating for behavioral therapy to treat infertility (Epstein). Relating that to the research study of women who prayed saw double the increase in fertility you could make an inference that the prayer was serving as a form of the behavioral therapy reducing stress levels causing them to have greater fertility rates. Thus concluding, I do believe western medicine to be superior to other forms, but I don’t think we should necessarily disregard traditional and religious means for treating illness.

Andrade, Chittaranjan, and Rajiv Radhakrishnan. “Prayer and Healing: A Medical and Scientific Perspective on Randomized Controlled Trials.” Indian Journal of Psychiatry. 2009. Accessed July 22, 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2802370/.

Epstein, Randi Hutter. “A Low-Tech Approach to Fertility: Just Relax.” The New York Times. 2007. Accessed July 22, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/04/health/04conv.html?_r=0.

One thought on “W3: Science and Religion: Which is better for healing?

  1. You have a unique way of framing this relationship. I do not believe it’s so much of which is better, pitting too system against each other to see which is more beneficial. This implicitly promotes the idea that we have two unchanging systems and we must choose between the two. You pointed this out when you said that we shouldn’t disregard traditional medicine completely. Furthermore, I believe you would agree that we take the good from both approaches in order to provide patients with the best way of healing. The issue is different people will value different things, they will go to the doctor for different reasons. I can frame the questions any way I want in order for my preferred system to look better.

    If it speaking on Academic medicine in terms of actual research in the medical world, then we definitely need to establish a baseline of empiricism in this field for real research to get done. But for the actual physician who deals with the patient, he can’t just do “Western medicine” or “Traditional medicine” the physician should be flexible and outreaching constantly shifting his approach to different patients relative to what they need, such a physician cannot be pigeonholed into one system if he wishes to be most effective for the patient.

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