Program on Medicine and Religion

Current Courses

Courses Offerings for 2022-2023

Autumn 2022

Good Vibes Only: Spiritual Energy Healing and Alternative Medicine in America
CCTS/ 21017/ 41017, HLTH 21017, KNOW 21017/41017, RLST 26321
Instructor: Rachel Carbonara, PMR Teaching Fellow

Course Description:

Can I manifest health and happiness by aligning my energy with “good vibes”? Which crystal can I use to cure a headache? Is spiritual energy healing just a capitalist scam? Practices of harnessing positive vibrations and energies for health and human flourishing are increasingly prevalent in the United States, flooding our Instagram and TikTok feeds with conversations centered around questions like the above. But these ideas are not new. This course introduces students to a modern tradition of alternative medicine, spanning from the nineteenth century to the present, that hinges on a spiritual interpretation of scientific discoveries about energy. This tradition of spiritual energy healing will serve as our window into examining a larger theoretical framework that articulates a medical paradigm of “holistic healing” in opposition to mainstream biomedicine. We will examine spiritual energy healing and its holistic framework through a social scientific lens. In other words, rather than evaluating its validity or efficacy, we will work to understand this tradition’s social and historical presence in American culture. Central questions include: How does spiritual energy healing interact with biomedicine, in both complementary and oppositional ways? How has it appropriated Eastern and Indigenous medical traditions? What exactly is its relationship to physics, and to scientific understandings of energy and vibration? In addition to reading historical and ethnographic accounts of energy healing, students will engage directly with primary source material from energy workers.

Religion and AIDS
RLST 26301
Instructor: Dr. Mark M. Lambert, Divinity Teaching Fellow

Course Description:

“The AIDS crisis was not an epoch that we survived. It is a battle that we are still fighting…when Americans talk about AIDS they are rarely just talking about a scientific problem or a pharmaceutical solution. They are instead offering a sociology of suffering and a plan for spiritual warfare.” – Kathryn Lofton
Is it possible to understand current debates over public health or the role of religion in the public sphere without first examining religious responses to the AIDS crisis? This course focuses on the emergence of the AIDS epidemic during the peak of the American culture wars. As such, students will analyze the fraught intersection of political power structures, medical epistemologies, and religious views on bodies, sex, and public morality. Through a varied catalog of disciplinary frameworks, e.g., history, theology, medical ethics, sociology of religion, and history of medicine, students will weigh the accuracy of Lofton’s claim that for Americans, AIDS is more than just a disease. Thus, we will scrutinize moral rhetoric surrounding contraception and its public availability. We will discuss the extent to which religious philanthropy, especially on the international stage, reshaped approaches to global health. Finally, we will revisit the role of religious communities in providing both care for the sick and theological responses to suffering. Prior knowledge of religious studies and/or medical history is not required for the course.

Religion and Abortion in the United States
RLST 26304
Instructor: Emily D. Crews, Divinity Teaching Fellow

Course Description:

In American public discourse, it is common to hear abortion referred to as a “religious issue.” But is abortion a religious issue? If so, in what ways, to whom, and since when?
In this course we will answer these questions by tracing the relationship between religion and abortion in American history. We will examine the kinds of claims religious groups have made about abortion; how religion has shaped the development of medical, legal, economic, and cultural perspectives on the topic; how debates over abortion have led to the rise of a certain kind of religious politics in the United States; and how issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, and the body are implicated in this conversation. Although the course will cover a range of time periods, religious traditions, and types of data (abortion records from Puritan New England, enslaved people’s use of root medicine to induce miscarriage, and Jewish considerations of the personhood of the fetus, among others), we will give particular attention to the significance of Christianity in legal and political debates about abortion in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
There are no prerequisites for this course and no background in Religious Studies is required. However, this course may be particularly well-suited to students interested in thinking about how their areas of study (medicine and medical sciences, gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, political science) converge with religion and Religious Studies.


Winter 2023

Indigenous Religions, Health, and Healing
RLST 27501
Instructor: Dr. Mark M. Lambert, Divinity Teaching Fellow

Course Description:

This course introduces students to the dynamic, often-contested understandings of health, healing, and religion among the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. Our task will be threefold: first, to examine the drastic effects of settler colonialism upon the social determinants of health for Indigenous peoples throughout the Americas, including the Caribbean, Mexico, United States, and Hawaii. Second, we shall attempt to understand healing practices as they are steeped in and curated by Indigenous traditions and religious beliefs. Our goal is to counteract centuries-old stereotypical images of Native peoples and challenge our preconceived notions of wellness, selfhood, and the boundaries of medicine. Third, we will reflect upon contemporary Indigenous approaches to health and healing with particular attention to the postcolonial hybridity of these practices. Throughout the course we will attend to a generative diversity of epistemologies, anthropologies, and religious worldviews with the ultimate goal that a renewed understanding of Indigenous healing traditions will augment our own approaches to global/public health and the study of religion.


Spring 2023

RLST 24103, RETH 30600
Instructor: Dr. Laurie Zoloth

Course Description:

This is a seminar that will explore how a variety of philosophic and religious thinkers approach the modern dilemmas in medicine and science in a field called bioethics. We will consider a general argument for your consideration: that the arguments and the practices from faith traditions and from philosophy offer significant contributions that underlie policies and practices in medicine and science. We will pay particular attention to how issues of race, class, and gender potentiate ethical dilemmas in health care and research.

We will use a case-based method to study how different traditions describe and defend differences in moral choices in contemporary bioethics. This class is based on the understanding that case narratives serve as another core text for the discipline of bioethics and that complex ethical issues are best considered by a careful examination of the competing theories as work themselves out in specific cases. We will examine both classic cases that have shaped our understanding of the field of bioethics and cases that are newly emerging, including the case of research done at our University. Through these cases, we will ask how religious traditions both collide and cohere over such topics as embryo research, health care reform, terminal illness, issues in epidemics and public health, and our central research question, synthetic biology research.

This class will also explore how the discipline of bioethics has emerged to reflect upon such dilemmas, with particular attention to the role that theology and philosophy have played in such reflection. We will look at both how the practice of theologians and philosophers has historically shaped the field of bioethics and at how these claims, methodology, and praxis have continued to shape and inflect bioethics. We will examine the issue of epistemic stance, of truth claims, and of how normative policies are created amid serious controversy. We will explore the nature of the relationship between religion and public policy and study how religious traditions and moral philosophy shape our view of issues as “bioethics controversies” in the first place. Course Note: Graduate students will meet in a separate section.

Disability Studies and Biblical Studies
BIBL 45300
Instructor: Dr. Jeffrey Stackert

Course Description:

This course will consider the application of disabilities studies theory in the interpretation of biblical texts. It will introduce students to the recent history of scholarship in this subspecialty and the various ends pursued by those studying disability in ancient literary representations. While focused mainly on the Hebrew Bible, students of the New Testament/early Christianity or ancient Judaism may choose to take the course and write their paper on a relevant text. PQ: Strong Biblical Hebrew.



The Making of the “Good Physician”: Virtue Ethics and the Development of Moral Character in Medicine (Scholars in Ethics and Medicine)
CCTS 21005 / MED 31005 (100 units)

Instructors: Kathryn Rowland, MD & Michael Hawking, MD

Course Description:
The Scholars in Ethics and Medicine program is a yearlong opportunity for students to collaborate with exemplar physician-scholars and medical ethicists to think through and critically discuss the traits required of a good health care clinician. Members of the group collaborate with invited speakers and mentors through participation in seminars, lectures, and small group dinners. The goal of the course is thus to gain a clearer picture of what constitutes the wise physician and to develop in wisdom.

The practice of medicine focuses on actions that are intended to promote health and healing, and to do so in ways that are respectful and compassionate. To be aimed at health and to be consistent with our ethical obligations, these actions need to be of a certain kind regarding the ends they pursue and the means they employ. This is to say that these actions need the virtue of practical wisdom, by which we identify the best means to achieve worthwhile ends. How we understand which ends are worthwhile and which means are best will depend on the virtues that guide not only our thoughts and motivations, but also our vision. For virtue influences not only our actions and motivations, but how we see world.  The Scholars in Ethics and Medicine will together explore deep connections between action, vision, wisdom, and virtue as they relate health and healing, in particular how wisdom and virtue are important for seeing patients as whole people, not just bodies to be fixed, in offering compassionate care, among others.