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Science, Religion, and the Human Experience$
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James D. Proctor

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195175325

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2006

DOI: 10.1093/0195175328.001.0001

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Uneasy Alliances: The Faith Factor in Medicine; the Health Factor in Religion

Uneasy Alliances: The Faith Factor in Medicine; the Health Factor in Religion

(p.287) 14 Uneasy Alliances: The Faith Factor in Medicine; the Health Factor in Religion
Science, Religion, and the Human Experience

Anne Harrington

Oxford University Press

This essay explores the overlap between faith and science in the context of medicine: Does the mind, or do higher powers accessed by the mind, have power to heal the body? Harrington considers four related claims, all offering some scientific validation. The first is that participation in religious services is good for one’s health, which can apparently be explained only in part by religious communities serving as high-quality social networks. The second is that meditation reduces physical stress and aids healing, whether or not the meditator has any knowledge of or connection with a religious tradition. The third claim is that religious belief of any sort can heal the body, which has strong roots in American religious history, but seems to derive more from innate healing capacities of the mind rather than any sort of divine power. The fourth, in contrast, is that prayer conveys healing benefits, whether or not it is the patient or an intercessor who prays. This fourth claim is bolstered by certain controversial studies, and differs from the other three in its implicit support for divine power, thus divinity, whereas the remainder are exceedingly pragmatic in overtones — religion is important because it works. All four claims, however, are somewhat distinct and hardly form a coherent package. Overall, Harrington is concerned with the broad assertion that religion heals the body due to its insistence that science has provided conclusive proof, as well as its utilitarian emphasis on medicinal therapy versus any other benefits conveyed by religion. What may result is not the spiritualization of medicine, but the medicalization of religion.

Keywords:   faith, healing, medicine, meditation, prayer, science, spirituality

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