For the 2014 AAA I organized a panel titled: "Medicalizing Religion, Spiritualizing Medicine: Producing Knowledge at the Intersections" (see abstract below). Participants include Emily Wentzell, Tyler Zoanni, Tsipy Ivry, and George Laufenberg. Pamela Klassen and Stacey Langwick will serve as discussants.
Medicalization, in which social problems are transformed into medical problems and the authority to discipline and heal bodies is transferred to (bio)medicine, continues to expand the jurisdiction of (bio)medicine globally. However, scholars are critiquing totalizing understandings of medicalization, examining contested and incomplete adoption of medical approaches and identifying the ways people incorporate multiple meaning systems into biomedically-oriented understandings of experience. This panel extends such inquiry by exploring how people enact medicalization in everyday religious life, an arena of experience often seen as incompatible with biomedical practice. Through ethnographic exploration of the ways that people combine biomedical and spiritual worldviews in practice, in sacred, clinical, and daily life settings, we illustrate ways that medicalization can intersect with religion to generate situated knowledges and related experiences of bodies, sickness, and suffering. Here, panelists working from diverse theoretical backgrounds including medical and psychological anthropology, religious studies, and science and technology studies address intersections between medicalization and spirituality in a range of world regions and religions. The panel explores medicalization not as an end-state but as a process that people might incorporate into spiritual practice to further both biomedical and spiritual ends. Ivry and Zoanni address how religious stances, projects, and worldviews are articulated and realized through the deployment of medicalized knowledge, through studies of reproductive decision making among observant Jews in Israel and disabilities ministries in the United States. Hardin investigates how spiritual and medical evidence of metabolic disorders is constructed among evangelical Christians in Samoa. Finally, Wentzell explores how the intersection of medicalization and religion informs health and medical decision making, with focused attention on gender, in relation to HPV in Mexico. By examining daily life relationships between medicalization and religion, these papers reveal interconnections between the ostensibly separate realms of secular healthcare and spirituality, opening new avenues for studying medicalization as an aspect of more complex personal responses to sickness, social inequality, and social suffering. By bringing together areas of anthropological inquiry often pursued separately, this panel responds to the meeting's theme of “producing anthropology” by ethnographically examining medicalization as a multidimensional process. The panel also bridges anthropological sub-disciplines in order to think creatively about the impact of these findings on the possibilities for partnerships, between and within the communities in which we work, and between and within scholarly disciplines.