The study of religions, medicines, and healing is a growing field within religious studies that draws on the disciplines and scholarship of history, anthropology (particularly medical anthropology), phenomenology, psychology, sociology, ethnic studies, ritual studies, gender studies, theology, political and economic theory, public health, bioscientific epidemiology, history of science, comparative religion, and other interdisciplinary approaches to interpret meanings assigned to illness, affliction, and suffering; healing, health, and well-being; healing systems and traditions, their interactions, and the factors that influence them; and related topics and issues. As a broad area of inquiry, this field incorporates diverse theoretical orientations and methodological strategies in order to develop theories and methods specific to the study of illness, health, healing, and associated social relations from religious studies perspectives. Although religious texts serve as important resources in this endeavor, so do the many approaches to the study of lived religion, religious embodiment and material culture, and popular expressions of religiosity. Finally, like its sister field of medical anthropology, the field of religions, medicines, and healing encourages examination of how affliction and healing affect social bodies through fractured identities, political divides, structural violence, and colonialism. We support the work of graduate students, religion scholars, scholar-activists, and scholars in allied fields. We promote collaboration with other interdisciplinary Program Units and those focused on particular traditions and/or regions.
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Religions, Medicines, and Healing Unit
Call for Proposals for November Meeting
The Religions, Medicines, and Healing Unit welcomes paper and/or panel proposals that explore specific intersections of religious and other healing traditions and practices. Proposals should address the social context of the topic, as well as theoretical and analytical frameworks, such as how this analysis helps us to understand religions, medicine, and healing in new ways. For 2024, we welcome any proposal that addresses our goals, and we have a particular interest in the following themes:
This panel is open to submissions focused on critical studies of ethnobotany, hallucinogens, Indigenous medicine and sacred plants, and how these medicines can lead to extractivist commodification by those outside these communities. How have Indigenous sacred plants and medicinal knowledge been extracted and commodified to create modern medicine (e.g. psychedelics)? What have been the costs for Indigenous peoples: how have local communities been demonized, persecuted, or criminalized for their use of these plant medicines? How have locals fought against this knowledge theft and resource extractions? Topics may include healing and plant medicine as it pertains to: ethnobotany, hallucinogenic medicine, sacred mushrooms of Mexico (Maria Sabina), Mama Ayahuasca among Indigenous Amazon communities and its commodification among non-Indigenous communities, and the commodification of Cannabis and persecution of Rastafari communities. We are especially interested in papers that examine religious traditions, practices, rituals, worldviews, etc. as resources for analyzing potential reparations for extractivist commodification of the Indigenous knowledge of plant medicines.
War is Not the Answer: Healing Amidst Religion & Conflict
This panel highlights the 2024 presidential theme of “Violence, Non-Violence, and the Margins.” The panel is open to a variety of submissions, including analyses of the intersection of religion with different forms of violence, conflict, and war. Topics may include: desecration of sacred sites during warfare; religious organizations either helping or supporting warfare; the ongoing genocide in Palestine; how religion can help heal from the trauma of war; how people find religious community during warfare; and displacement of religious communities due to conflict or war. We are especially interested in papers that examine religious traditions, practices, rituals, worldviews, etc., as resources for analyzing moral injury, healing, genocide, peace and self-inflicted as well as institutional violence.
Music as a Healing Balm: Sound, Illness & Wellness
The late prophet Prince famously proclaimed that, “Music is healing. Music holds things together.” This session invites submissions that examine the intersection between music, sound, religion, and healing broadly understood. Proposals might investigate the growing practice of music and sound therapy and focus on how music can enhance meditative states and/or provide relief in settings of palliative and hospice care. Proposals could consider Indigenous traditions, such as the ceremonial chantways of the Dine (Navajo) nation, which uses oratory and songs to facilitate healing. Proposals could also explore religious music as nonviolent resistance, a vehicle for community building, or a means to process collective trauma. We encourage a variety of perspectives and critical methodologies but especially invite those that engage ethnomusicology.
Graduate Student Award
Graduate students are the future of our profession and contribute substantially to the success of the Religions, Medicines, and Healing Unit by delivering papers based on original research. Through the RMH Graduate Student Paper Award, we recognize this contribution and encourage outstanding research by students. Papers will be evaluated for their originality, appropriate use of sources, and the quality of writing. Eligible students must:
- be actively enrolled in a doctoral program and pursuing a research topic in any discipline related to Religions, Medicines, and Healing;
- have had a paper accepted by the RMH Unit for presentation at the 2024 Annual Meeting;
- have indicated when submitting their proposal that they are applying for the award. Further instructions will be emailed after proposal acceptance.
The Religions, Medicines, and Healing Unit is committed to the value of diversity, equity, and social justice in our standards of excellence. For pre-arranged panels, we especially welcome proposals that reflect diversity of gender, ethnicity, race, field, method, and scholarly rank and directly address such within the proposal.
Call for Proposals for Online June Meeting
For the June online sessions, the Religions, Medicines, and Healing Unit welcomes individual paper proposals for short presentations (5-10 minutes) that explore pedagogical approaches and examples related to teaching courses on religions, health, and healing, broadly imagined. We welcome a wide range of perspectives and institutional contexts, with the goal of addressing some of the current challenges, opportunities, and effective strategies for those teaching in this area.
The Religions, Medicines, and Healing Unit is committed to the value of diversity, equity, and social justice in our standards of excellence.
Statement of Purpose
Steering Committee Members
Shamara Alhassan, Arizona State University1/1/2023 - 12/31/2028
Alfredo Garcia, Harvard University1/1/2022 - 12/31/2027
Mark Lambert, University of Chicago1/1/2021 - 12/31/2026
Hajung Lee, University of Puget Sound1/1/2021 - 12/31/2026
Leah Lomotey-Nakon, Vanderbilt University1/1/2023 - 12/31/2028
William McGrath, New York University1/1/2020 - 12/31/2025
Emily Wu, Dominican University of California1/1/2021 - 12/31/2026