God Cured My Cancer: Assessing the efficacy of religious healing

  • Simon Dein


While the literature examining the links between religion and health has grown exponentially in the past decade, rather less attention has been given to the topic of  religious healing, and more specifically whether it ’works’  or not.  To date anthropological work in this area has largely focused upon its symbolic aspects arguing that its efficacy is mediated by the manipulation of religious symbols and the experiential changes consequent upon this. After discussing what we mean by efficacy and the differences between healing and curing, I pose the question of biomedical effectiveness- can religious healing result in biomedical cure and what problems arise from the application of scientific and biomedical criteria to religious healing? I illustrate the talk by discussing three healing contexts: Intercessory prayer; Pentecostal healing and healing at the Catholic shrine of Lourdes.


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