The Body as Evidence of Truth

Biomedicine and Enduring Narratives of Religious and Spiritual Healing


  • Alexandra Roginski Deakin University
  • Cristina Rocha Western Sydney University



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. 

Author Biographies

Alexandra Roginski, Deakin University

Dr Alexandra Roginski is a historian and visiting fellow of Deakin University and the State Library of New South Wales whose work addresses ideas and practices of the body. Among her publications, she is the author of The Hanged Man and the Body Thief: Finding Lives in a Museum Mystery (Monash University Publishing, 2015) and Science and Power in the Nineteenth-Century Tasman World: Popular Phrenology in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).

Cristina Rocha, Western Sydney University

Professor Cristina Rocha is Professor of Anthropology and the Director of the Religion and Society Research Cluster, Western Sydney University, Australia. She was a fellow at the Paris Institute for Advanced Study (2021–2022) and the President of the Australian Association for the Study of Religion (2018–2019). She co-edits the Journal of Global Buddhism and the Religion in the Americas Brill series.


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How to Cite

Roginski, A., & Rocha, C. (2022). The Body as Evidence of Truth: Biomedicine and Enduring Narratives of Religious and Spiritual Healing. Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, 35(2), 168–191.