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  • Médecine et religion: Collaborations, compétitions, conflits (XIIe–XXe siècle) ed. by Maria Pia Donato etal.
  • Peregrine Horden
Médecine et religion: Collaborations, compétitions, conflits (XIIe–XXe siècle). Edited by Maria Pia Donato, Luc Berlivet, Sara Cabibbo, Raimondo Michetti, and Marilyn Nicoud. [Collection de l’École Française de Rome, Vol. 476.] (Rome: École Française de Rome. 2013. Pp. 400. €40,00 paperback. ISBN 978-2-7283-0967-2.)

Medicine has rarely been separable from religion. Only in parts of the developed world, and only in the last century or so, have religious considerations not impinged much on health-seeking behavior. At the extreme, medicine may become a religion in itself. In some parts of the United States, it is said, health and medicine have attained quasi-cultic status, and the British now find their established church in the tax-funded National Health Service. For most of human history, however, medicine has been not only deeply entangled with, but in some way subordinate to, religious imperatives: questions of health could never be seen in entirely secular terms. Over many years Darrel W. Amundsen and Gary B. Ferngren (often in tandem), among numerous other scholars, have provided an overall typology of how medicine and religion may interrelate and a broad sketch of historical developments, especially in classical antiquity and Christian Europe. Yet to read Ferngren’s recent Medicine and Religion: A Historical Introduction (Baltimore, 2014) is to be reminded how much remains to be done, particularly with respect to modern times as a counter to any simplistic narrative of progressive secularization. [End Page 898] Arguably no major or world religion has had a more fraught or variable relationship to medicine than has Christianity. It is to addressing that complexity over the longue durée in the Catholic Christian world and décloisonner (the editors’ felicitous verb) the various approaches to it that have been tried (medical, religious, social, or cultural history) that the present collection is dedicated. Some of the fruits of two research projects converge, one based in Rome (under editors Cabibbo and Michetti) on sanctity and healing; the second (under Berlivet, Donato, and Nicoud) on the medical professions and medical practice. Both span the Middle Ages and the contemporary world, mainly focused on Europe but with sideways glances at the Middle East and Latin America.

The thirteen main contributions are presented in two groups of very unequal size. First come ten “hypotheses” about the main possible relations between medicine and religion given in the collection’s subtitle—collaboration, competition, conflict. Second, there are three interdisciplinary studies involving medicine, anthropology, and sociology. The first group is perhaps too large and its heading too capacious to be helpful. Important and absorbing themes, in fact, traverse both parts. One of them has to do with saints: canonization, the saint’s incorruptible body, and healing miracles. Another involves the Holy See, the Holy Office, medicine, and “biopolitics,” reacting variously to Mesmerism, artificial fertilization, and reproductive rights. A third embraces the religious orders and medicine (including astrology and the prolongation of life), from the Cistercians to the Jesuits and Oratorians. A fourth locates medicine within interfaith dealings, in the crusader states and the Spanish New World. That leaves only two contributions and even these loosely belong together: on demonology in Italian Renaissance medicine and the ending of the witch craze; and on the nineteenth-century Catholic psychologist Agostino Gemelli reacting to experimental psychology and psychoanalysis in reframing the origins of mental illness. A helpful editorial introduction and a historiographical scene-setting by Maria Pia Donato preface this fascinating array of studies. Although medicine and medicalization are mostly left undefined, this volume is an essential contribution to continuing debates about their definition and cultural setting. The emphasis on pursuing what might seem like medieval or earlymodern topics into the nineteenth century and indeed through the pontificate of Pope John Paul II is also extremely welcome.

Peregrine Horden
Royal Holloway, University of London


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