Alternative Medicine and American Religious Life

Alternative Medicine and American Religious Life

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This book upholds that underlying all unorthodox medical systems is a characteristically American strain of religious thought which states that spiritual, physical and economic well-being flow from the individual's connection with the cosmos. After a survey of the earliest nineteenth-century health reforms, including hydropathy, homeopathy and Thomsonianism (which held that all disease was caused by cold and could be cured by heat), Fuller turns to mesmerism and Swedenborgianism. These two movements he argues were key representatives of an extraordinary metaphysical flowering that took place in America between the 1830s and the Civil War. He then goes on to demonstrate that virtually all subsequent health care enthusiasms can be shown to relate to or stem from seminal movements. The final chapter raises the question of whether it is the religious element in these groups that makes them effective healing forces. Fuller's conclusion is that such groups and practices supply a perception of "sacred reality" and contact with a higher power in a way that organized religions have failed to do.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 192 pages
  • 139.7 x 213.36 x 22.86mm | 408.23g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 10 pp halftones
  • 0195057759
  • 9780195057751

About Robert C. Fuller

About the Author Robert C. Fuller is Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies and Director of the University Honors Program at Bradley University. He is the author of Americans and the Unconscious, Mesmerism and the American Cure of Souls, and Religion and the Life Cycle.show more

Review Text

Intelligent, brief historical survey of unorthodox medical techniques, from Mesmerism to crystal healing, and their relation to American popular religion. Fuller (Religion/Bradley Univ.) deliberately excludes faith healing from his study, focusing instead on therapies that are primarily medical in nature but also include a spiritual component. Such therapies thrive at the fringes of orthodox medicine; in the 1830's, just as in the 1980's, they usually offer gentle, holistic approaches in lieu of more purgative or even violent orthodox techniques.: First up is Thomaonianism, a "democratic" medicine available to anyone who puchased the guidebook by its founder, a New Hampshire farmer who claimed that all disease is caused by cold and cured by heat. Other early methods range from oddities like hydropathy, which involved wrapping patients in wet sheets, to Grahamism(developed by the inventor of the graham cracker), an infant version of the modern counterculture's nuts-and-whole-grains philosophy. These early alternative medicines received intellectual backbone from Mesmerism and Sweden-borgianism, both of which emphasized the active influence of "higher" spiritual forces. Other 19th-century techniques - osteopathic and chiropractic, in particular - have survived into modern times and can now be found alongside therapeutic touch, Alcoholics Anonymous, crystal healing, etc. As Fuller points out, these methods all see healing as a rite of initiation, a way of awakening to a new life. As such, at a time when orthodox church attendance continues to drop, they serve as major sources of revitalization in American religious life. A satisfying addition to the shelf of outstanding recent books that offer intellectual analyses & what might be called "the people's" spirituality. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

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