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
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 2023, we welcome any proposal that addresses our goals, and we have a particular interest in the following themes:
- Justice for Healing, Healing for Justice: This broad theme is open to a variety of submissions, including different modes of justice and forms of healing ranging from individual to collective, institutional, cultural, or historical. Topics may include, but are not limited to, justice and healing in relation to immigration and migration, trauma and abuse, decolonization and reparations (ex. Federal Indian Boarding Schools and reparations for African descendants). We are especially interested in papers that examine religious traditions, practices, rituals, worldviews, etc. as resources for justice-related healing or healing-related justice, as well as ways that religious actors, practices, and moral frameworks have intensified the need for healing and justice.
- Care and healing as “the work of our hands": a co-sponsored call with the Religion and Disability Studies Unit and the Class, Religion, and Theology Unit. How might caregiving, care work, and healing be best represented in religious studies scholarship? What current pitfalls or potential surround care and healing as both concrete practices and academic subjects? How has care been politicized or depoliticized in academic discourse pertaining to disability specifically? Who does care labor (paid and unpaid), who pays for its paid forms, how does this economic organization of care labor affect both the receivers and the providers of care labor — and how does this all relate to religious practices or thought, especially in regards to disability and/or healing?
- Chaplains and “Spiritual Care” in Healthcare Settings – A co-sponsored call with the Innovations in Chaplaincy & Spiritual Care Unit: Wendy Cadge’s Spiritual Care: The Everyday Work of Chaplains (OUP 2022) adds to a growing body of studies about chaplaincy from scholars of religion. Her work examines chaplains as “America's hidden religious leaders,” contextualizing the spiritual care of chaplains within their diverse religious and workplace ecologies. For this session, we are particularly interested in her contributions regarding chaplaincy in its multiple relations to healthcare settings. We are seeking engagements with this book from a wide range of perspectives—from various scholarly disciplines to direct engagements with embedded practices—as well as from a wide range of voices, including scholars and practitioners, a diversity of religious backgrounds and identities, and multiple viewpoints on the nature of healing and of spiritual care. We are also interested in some panelists addressing how we teach Cadge’s work or train future healthcare professionals about religion and the role of chaplains in light of her contributions.
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 2023 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.
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