The Body as Evidence of Truth
Biomedicine and Enduring Narratives of Religious and Spiritual Healing
Keywords:body, truth, biomedicine, spiritual healing, evidence
Practitioners of alternative medicine and spirituality often highlight narratives of healing as evidence for the superiority of their modalities over Western biomedicine. We argue that this form of establishing and defending truth has a long history, and base this analysis on the historical and anthropological study of two periods: the late nineteenth century, when alternative theories about relations of mind, body and spirit flourished against a backdrop of political and religious transformation; and late modernity, when increased self-reflexivity and mistrust of secular institutions such as biomedicine prompted growth in alternative medical systems. Foregrounding the voices of practitioners and ‘clients’, this article outlines how recurring narratives of the healed body position the individual as a person in control of their physical and spiritual journey. In our present time, scrutinizing the healed body as an archive of truth deepens understanding of why denialist beliefs about vaccination and COVID-19 can prove so intractable.
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