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Physician/Pastor, Doctor/Divine: Intersections of Religion and Medicine, NeMLA Apr 7-10, 2011 [Abstracts due 9/30]
full name / name of organization:
Ashley Reed and Kelly Bezio
From Cotton Mather's *The Angel of Bethesda* to the television drama *House, M.D.*, purveyors of American culture remain preoccupied with the intertwining roles of the physician and the pastor. Mather’s assertion that illness is sin and medical cures can be found by cleansing the soul invokes related anxieties about medicine thwarting divine will. Nathaniel Hawthorne's stories of mad scientists and William Wells Brown's condemnation of medical experiments on enslaved Africans speak to the fear of medicine infringing on the dictates of the divine--a tension that continues today as medical dramas pit the "miracles" of Western medical therapeutics against the "wonders" of faith. Alternatively, writers like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Francis Ellen Watkins Harper envisioned doctors and ministers as healers of social ills, rising above professional and sectional conflict to heal the nation. The mind-cure and Christian Science movements of the 19th century conflated spiritual and physical healing to such an extent that the physician and the pastor became one and the same, and contemporary author-physicians like Atul Gawande craft works of "narrative medicine" that explore the ethical--and sometimes spiritual--dilemmas inherent in the practice of modern medicine.
This panel explores and parses the interwoven roles of the pastor and the physician in American culture from the colonial era to the present. How are the professional roles of physicians and pastors imagined as either convergent or in competition? How do fictional physician and pastor characters complicate (or reify) ongoing debates about bodies, souls, and individual will? How is the sociopolitical authority of ministers and physicians questioned or negotiated in American texts, and how do the roles of doctor and divine change as women begin entering these previously all-male professions?