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  • Médecine et religion: Collaborations, compétitions, conflits (XIIe-XXe siècles) ed. by Maria Pia Donato et al.
  • Maria Conforti
Maria Pia Donato, Luc Berlivet, Sara Cabibbo, Raimondo Michetti, and Marilyn Nicoud, eds. Médecine et religion: Collaborations, compétitions, conflits (XIIe-XXe siècles). Rome: École Française de Rome, 2013. 400 pp. €40.00 (978-2-7283-0967-2).

The relationship between religion(s) and the healing arts has a long history, both from the point of view of “profound similarities in … purpose and function” (J. Duffin, p. 356), as in the attention historiography has given to this topic. But it must be underlined that the differences and similarities between the two practices were a staple of the earliest reconstructions of the history of medicine, beginning with the Hippocratic De veteri medicina. This book rather underlines their having become, from the Middle Ages onward, rival and conflicting bodies of knowledge. As stated in the Introduction, the book mainly addresses the Latin, later Catholic, area, and it centers—with exceptions—on social practices.

The first contribution, by Maria Pia Donato, also presents itself as an introduction, making the case for cooperation between intellectual and social historians, [End Page 146] and offering brief surveys on miracles, anatomies of saintly bodies, psychohistory, and hospitals—in fact, adopting a perspective focusing on the early modern age. However, the book begins with a rich section on the Middle Ages: Joseph Ziegler examines the way the body, and especially the body of the enemy, was interpreted in inter-religious encounters in the Middle East. Laurence Moulinier-Brogi deals with medical astrology in the context of religious orders, offering new perspectives on the way they absorbed lay practices and beliefs, while Chiara Crisciani discusses the different ways physicians and theologians envisaged the attempts at prolongatio vitae. The early modern age is well represented by Elisa Andretta’s analysis of the role played by medical practice within the communities of the Jesuits and of the Oratorians, two newly founded Counter Reformation orders, in sixteenth-century Rome; by Bradford Bouley’s contribution on the role of physicians as expert witnesses in canonization proceedings; by the excellent study by Vincenzo Lavenia on the use of traditional medical knowledge to discriminate between “true” diseases and those supposedly caused by preternatural, demoniac intervention. Turning to the nineteenth century, David Armando discusses the documents produced by the Catholic Church on theories and practices originating in the Enlightenment, such as animal magnetism, spiritualism, and the like. The advance of medicalization can be observed in Lourdes, as Alessandro Di Marco underlines, where miraculous healings were increasingly subject to the Bureau des constatations médicales. The transition between the age of medical and scientific Positivism and twentieth century concerns are exemplified by Agnès Desmazières’s paper on father Agostino Gemelli, as well as by Emmanuel Betta’s contribution on the shifting attitude of the Holy Office towards artificial reproductive pratices. The last section of the book bears the title “Croisement disciplinaires” (Disciplinary crossroads), and it contains three contributions, the first—anthropologically minded and again going back to the early modern—by Manfredi Merluzzi, on the difficult, if not impossible, encounter between European medicine and the traditional medical lore of Native Americans. Finally, Jacalyn Duffin’s enjoyable and highly instructive narrative on her first approach, as a hematologist, to the complex world of Catholic miraculous healings is followed by Isacco Turina’s survey on the recent attitudes of the Catholic church on the hot topic of reproductive rights.

As shown by this inevitably brief overview, the book represents a welcome addition to the burgeoning literature in the field. Many articles deal with a wealth of sources, and offer evidence for a redefinition of methods and periodization(s). The long—maybe too long—chronological span adopted here, as well as the diversity of the approaches represented, may leave the reader with some wonder at the lack of a stronger definition of the object and boundaries of the papers as a whole. Recent discussions on science—not medicine—and religion, such as those by John Brooke or Amos Funkenstein, are almost ignored, separating once again medicine from the sciences. This is a...


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