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Reviewed by:
  • L'Hôpital entre religions et laïcité du Moyen Âge à nos jours
  • Alison Forrestal
L'Hôpital entre religions et laïcité du Moyen Âge à nos jours. Edited by Jacqueline Lalouette with the collaboration of Élisabeth Belmas, Marie-José Michel and Serenella Nonnis-Vigilante. [Mémoire chrétienne au present, Number 4.] (Paris: Letouzey & Ané. 2006. Pp. 303. €32,00 paperback.)

The essays in this collection are the products of a two-day colloquy attended by a range of delegates from the French academic, medical, and political professions in November 2005. In the light of new legislation and charters on medical deontology, hospitalization, and patient rights, the colloquy's participants sought to "measure and reflect"on the ways in which these had been expressed in hospitals, hospices, and other medical institutions in the past, how they were expressed in the contemporary health and welfare system, and how they might be translated in the future. The result of these deliberations is an interesting set of essays composed by historians and health professionals. They concentrate principally on the historical articulation of health care and welfare, with little emphasis placed on contemporary or potential structures and practices. The contributions generally provide revealing case studies, distinguished by regionality and religious classifications, although the editors have not devoted great attention to assimilating their individual findings. Equally, although its title suggests that the volume is concerned with religion and laicization from the Middle Ages, only one essay, Chiara Devoti's essay on the hospital in Aosta, Northern Italy, actually contains more than a passing reference to that period. There are also only three essays on the early modern period: Marie-Claude Dinet-Lecomte offers a solid survey of female religious orders in hospitals to the French Revolution, under the banners of feminization, clericalization, and congregationalism;Vilma Fasoli examines the tensions between science and charity in the provision of hospital care at Santa Maria dei Battuti in Udine, the Republic of Venice, in the second half of the eighteenth century; Serenella Nonnis-Vigilante provides a stimulating analysis of the relationship between political dominance and laicization in the battle between scientific positivism and religious traditions within Turin from the eighteenth century. The other essays, fifteen in total, are all post-Revolution in chronology, but include a useful view, as the early modern selection did, of hospitals and laicization outside France (Catherine Maurer's explicitly comparative study of French and German urban institutions).

The variety of topics contained within the essays is especially valuable, much of it the fruit of ongoing research on regional encounters with the politics, ideology, and culture of laicization. The majority of the contributors signal the complexity of the negotiations that professionalized health care, laicized hospital organization, and redefined care of the sick poor to cure of the sick person. In fact, they all demonstrate that the progress was not streamlined or irrevocable, and that the religious elements of health care did not simply retreat before modernization and laicization. In late nineteenth-century Lille, for example, Sylvia Évrard suggests that the religious sisters were only moderately disturbed in their positions in hospitals, despite growing anticlericalism. [End Page 311] She argues convincingly that political, economic, and social reasons discouraged the Lillois authorities to go much further than obliterating the most obvious practices of religious observance from hospitals,such as the Friday fast;the sisters were popular with locals, difficult to replace, and useful educators of the youthful poor. As in Bordeaux (Pierre Guillaume), the religious simply died out eventually in the city's hospitals. One of the most memorable essays in the collection, Olivier Faure's analysis of the petits hôpitaux during the nineteenth century, points out that the number of these institutions actually grew during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In a conclusion with bears comparison with those of Guillaume and Évrard, he convincingly claims that their fulfilment of polyvalent social needs locally and their relative independence from the state-sponsored medical profession ensured their survival. Finally, an examination of the French government's own tormented effort, as a political gesture of appeasement and authority, to bypass its own laws of laicization in providing a mosque, hospital, and graveyard for Muslim...


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