June 2002 / Bonn

Workshop: “Religion and Medicine (II)”

The workshop of 1 June 2002 in Bonn evaluates the panel “From Religion to Medicine – and Back Again?” organized by the work group “Medical Anthropology” at the DGV Biannual Meeting 2001 in Göttingen. We want to build on the previous achievements of our work group rather than falling behind what we have already discovered. At the beginning of the workshop Hansjörg Dilger and Brigit Obrist will give a retrospective introduction to which the other work shop members are welcome to contribute. Here we only want to remind ourselves of some important milestones along the path we are following:

The starting point of our concern with this topic was the paper by Susan Reynolds Whyte (1989) “Anthropological Approaches to African Misfortune: From Religion to Medicine”. In this paper Reynolds Whyte poses the question what difference it makes, whether responses to misfortune in Africa are investigated from the perspective of Religious or Medical Anthropology. In a preliminary workshop in Berlin (see the protocol of March 4, 2001) we discussed this paper and connected it with different theoretical approaches to the topic, by Csordas (1987), Pool (1994) and Kleinman (1995).


We discovered four interconnected fields:


1. Perspectives with a focus on similarities, such as the empirical field,

2. approaches that critically reflect the construction of religious and medical responsibilities,

3. theoretical re-orientations superior to both sub-disciplines that lead to a new relationship between Religious and Medical Anthropology, such as Kleinman’s „social suffering“ approach or generally the amendment of the system theory with an action theorey perspective, and

4. an overlap of the two contexts in the areas of morality and ethics and their connection to politics in the widest sense seems to develop.


Hansjörg Dilger summarized the most important results of this discussion in his introduction to the panel of the work group „Medical Anthropology“ in Göttingen and began with a historical review: While the medicalization of life that started in Europe and the USA in the 19th century was still intensifying in the middle of the 20th century, at the end of the 20th century we increasingly recognize the limits of biomedicine. The re-awakened interest in the relationship of religion and medicine in Social Anthropology mirrors a change in perspective in Europe and the USA. After the introduction four papers were read, covering a wide area, geographically and in contents: starting with the magic of biomedicine in Europe (Els van Dongen), over the paradigm shifts in the history of our subject with the example of German East Africa (Walter Bruchhausen), and a performative approach in the examination of possession cults in India (Elisabeth Schömbucher-Kusterer), to the question of the influence of Buddhism on biomedically trained physicians in Thailand (Peter Kaiser). The wide area covered in these lectures impressively showed the necessity of asking what „religion“ and „medicine“ mean in particular historical and geographical contexts.

Moreover, we have to examine how the relationship between these concepts is negotiated in different historical, geographical and political spaces and contexts, as Brigit Obrist explained in her summary of the panel.

We want to continue deepening these insights in the workshop in Bonn. In opening lectures and subsequent discussions we want to reach three goals:

1. A careful reflexion and discussion of the terms „religion“ and „medicine“ and their underlying concepts (including their historical and cultural localisation).

2. A critical sharpening of the eye for the differentiation between perspectives that on the one hand have a biographical focus and examine how actors handle the conflict between “religion” and “medicine” or “belief” and “knowledge” in specific situations, and on the other hand ground the interaction between the systems in the social – or more precisely, the historical and economical – context.

3. Discussion of a collective publication and planning of concrete steps (such as a book proposal).

(with opening lectures 15 min. + approx. 20 min. discussion)

9.00 9.30 Brigit Obrist und Hansjörg Dilger. Retrospective of Göttingen and perspectives of the day.
Chair: Hansjörg Dilger
9.30 – 10.10 Lilo Roost Vischer. Defining religion in Social Anthropology.
10.10 – 10.50 Walter Bruchhausen. Defining religion in Theology
10.50 – 11.30 Coffee break
Chair: Walter Bruchhausen
11.30 – 12.10 Yvonne Adam. Empirical tradition or the difference between belief and knowledge.
12.10 – 12.45 Brigit Obrist. Belief in knowledge: an actor’s perspective in Dar es Salaam.
12.45 – 14.15 Lunch break
Chair: Brigit Obrist
14.15 – 14.55 Walter Bruchhausen. Islamization and the formation of medical niches: Healing by ghosts in Southeast Tanzania.
14.55 – 15.35 Lilo Roost Vischer. Religious healing in West Africa.
15.35 – 16.15 Hansjörg Dilger. Economics of healing in a comparative perspective: examples from the USA and East Africa.
16.15 – 16.45 Coffee break
16.45 – 17.00 Brigit Obrist. Outlook: Summary and formulation of goals.
17.00 – 18.30 Final discussion