Subscribe to Christianity Today
Healing in the History of Christianity
Oxford University Press, 2005
240 pp., $40.95
Heather D. Curtis
All Shall Be Well
Religious healing is a hot topic in contemporary public and academic discourse. Over the past several decades, medical researchers, religious believers, and scholars from a variety of disciplines have been exploring and debating the relationship between faith and health. Studies aiming to assess the value of contemplative practices for coping with physical pain and the efficacy of petitionary prayer for curing bodily illness have stimulated controversy among scientists and seized the attention of popular news media. Publications such as Newsweek and Time have frequently reported on growing grass-roots interest in intersections among religious belief, spiritual practice, and physical well-being. At the same time, medical anthropologists, sociologists and scholars of religion have documented the myriad ways in which a wide variety of faith communities seek to integrate the insights of biomedicine with the resources of their religious traditions.
Amanda Porterfield's sweeping study, Healing in the History of Christianity, reminds us that interest in religious healing is nothing new. In fact, Porterfield asserts, the practice of healing has been a part of "many, if not all" faith traditions around the world and throughout history. Christians, she contends, have made healing a "defining element" of their religious experience from the time of Jesus through the present and have proved themselves especially adept at promoting their faith as a means of attaining personal, social, and eternal health. The "distinctive" emphasis Christians have placed upon healing, Porterfield argues, helps to explain Christianity's "endurance, expansion, and success" as a world religion. Since its inception, Christianity has appealed to people in a variety of different cultural and historical contexts because of its ability to serve as an "antidote" for suffering of all kinds; a means of coping with the diseases, stresses, fears, and alienations caused by social dislocation, political oppression, ...