Abstracts conference ‘Alternative and Religious Healing in a Modern World’

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Alternative and Religious Healing

in a Modern World’

September 21-24 2016


The Subjectivity ─ and Intersubjectivity ─ of Care
within Reiki Practice

Dori Beeler, PhD

Dori Beeler is a medical anthropologist whose work spans across a contemporary and socio-historical understanding of the intersections between healing and spirituality; medical science, expertise and law; health and wellbeing; healthcare and commodity; the body as culture; oral history and tradition; and children’s health and care. She has done extensive ethnographic fieldwork in Britain investigating Reiki practice with a focus on the practitioner, the client, and medical professionals. Her research led to a description, within Reiki practice, of the relationship between spirituality and wellbeing and the values, such as love, connection, and care that exemplify this relationship. Underlying Dori's work is her interest in an in-depth understanding of the everyday, lived experience of individuals and communities. She takes a person-centered approach in understanding how practices of the everyday inform culture and are in turn informed by culture, specifically medical culture. These concentrations are essential elements in her teaching and writing projects. Her current research within the center is focused on the ethnography of laboratory science and virtues within science that underpin human flourishing inside and outside the lab.

I didn’t want to take any medication, because I knew that it was something wrong inside of me, something inside me that could be put right without medication. I think that the Reiki has helped me find myself, a big factor in that… and I feel more balanced now.’ Statements such as these are not uncommon when speaking to Reiki ‘patients’ in Britain. A spiritually grounded hands-on-healing practice which originated in Japan in 1922, Reiki can be categorized as a contemporary complementary and alternative healing practice in the Western world that is not taken very seriously by a societal majority. However, due to globalization, it has become increasingly popular and can therefore be argued to be a part of mainstream culture. In Britain, Reiki practice is an under-studied example of the ‘patients,’ commonly referred to as clients, involved and their ideas on healing and the themes consistent with their healing experiences.

Based on ethnographic research these ideas and themes are indicative of both subjective and intersubjective client experiences. In foregrounding the nuances of client participation we are given a purchase on the subtle ways in which care is perceived by those undergoing Reiki ‘treatment’. Incidentally, this examination of intersubjectivity will also illuminate practitioner experiences of the healing process. I draw especially on Alfred Schutz’s concept of ‘tuning in’ wherein both practitioner and client share a ‘vivid present together’. The healing experience, I suggest, situates Reiki as a relational practice that has shared meaning for both carer and sufferer. For both the Reiki practitioner and the client the vivid present together creates a subjective ‘safe’ space where care is both given and received. Furthermore, the process of healing and care characterise social and cultural values of well-being, where a sense of balance is emergent in the sense of relaxation and being ‘at peace.’

Communicating with regular health care providers or alternative healers about unusual or spiritual experiences. Why (not)?

Dr. Elpine de Boer, Leiden University

In recent decades there has been an increasing public awareness of the relevance of spirituality and religiosity to health issues. However, generally it is unclear how to properly address spiritual and religious issues in a (western) health care setting. We know from empirical research that many patients consider it important to discuss existential and spiritual issues during treatment and not only want to focus on medical explanations. But at the same time people don’t want to be pushed into a worldview they may not believe in or they sometimes feel too vulnerable to talk about existential issues and prefer to keep their ‘inner worlds’ private.

The present paper wants to shed some light on people’s motifs to (not) communicate with regular (formal medicine) or alternative, complementary caregivers. Communication itself is in fact about meaning, referring to the sharing of meaning people have created in their minds by their (memories of) experiences, thoughts, feelings. Therefore, studying with whom patients want to communicate and with whom they prefer not to communicate can tell us something about meaning systems and world views people are attracted to or reject and also about their ‘view’ of the meaning systems and worldviews of regular and alternative caregivers.

In this paper I present empirical findings from a particular sample: people who have reported to have had (an) out-of-body experience(s). In an out-of-body experience (OBE) people feel that their ‘self’ or center of awareness, is located outside of the physical body. As we are interested in the attraction or rejection of ‘formal medicine’ or ‘alternative’ worldviews, OBE’s are interesting to study simply because the nature of out-of-body experiences may challenge prior (religious, scientific or formal medicine) beliefs about the afterlife, body-soul, time, space.

More specifically, in a sample of 407 respondents who had experienced an OBE, we investigated using close-ended and open-ended questions if, why but also why not respondents talked about their OBE with a regular caregiver (e.g., physician, psychiatrist, psychologist) or alternative healer (e.g., psychic or spiritual healer, pastoral worker). In addition, we tested the following hypotheses (1) The OBE is in particular shared with caregivers/healers (instead of keeping the experience private or discussing it with friends or family) when respondents experience anxiety or confusion because of the OBE (2) Particularly respondents who self-identify as ‘new spirituals’ talk to alternative/complementary caregivers about their OBE and (3) Respondents who emphasize the physical or medical side of the OBE share their OBE with regular caregivers whereas respondents who emphasize the existential or spiritual side share their OBE with alternative caregivers.

Results from statistical (Chi-square) analysis and categorization of qualitative data revealed that our hypotheses were largely confirmed. Generally, the data indicate that ‘regular health care seekers’ looked for information & reassurance whereas ‘alternative health care seekers’ looked for exploration &meaning regarding their OBE. Interestingly, and unexpectedly, respondents who felt anxious and confused talked less to caregivers than respondents with ‘positive’ aftereffects (i.e. respondents who found their OBE interesting or who changed their beliefs about life and death as a result of the OBE).

Inspection of the qualitative data suggests that respondents who felt anxious and confused do not share their experiences with caregivers because of perceived conflicting worldviews within themselves and between themselves and regular caregivers (e.g., shame/fear for a lack of understanding) or alternative healers (e.g., distrust, other belief system).

In a general discussion alternative explanations of the results are suggested (e.g., whether sharing the OBE may lead to a more positive aftereffects instead of the other way around) and we discuss our findings more broadly in the light of challenges in R/S communication in a multi (ir)religious health care context in general.

The Journey: New Age Healing in Sedona, Arizona

Susannah Crockford, London School of Economics

This paper proposes an ethnographic examination of healing in “new age” spirituality. “New age” healing is often described in terms of discrete practices: yoga, raw food, reiki, etc. What my two years of fieldwork in the Northern Arizonan towns of Sedona and Valle suggest is that although the various practices are important, individuals were more likely to emphasize a continuously evolving process of healing. This process was often identified as a journey. This paper will focus primarily on Sedona, a tourist resort and a “New Age mecca”, where spiritual seekers come to experience the “vortexes”. Vortexes are said to be sites of spiralling spiritual energy, which enable and enhance the body’s natural healing capability. The entire area is said to have this special energy, and is considered sacred by many residents. Many of my informants came to be healed. This was often expressed as being “called”. This paper elaborates briefly three such narratives of healing journeys; one dealing with inoperable liver cancer, another with recovery from a successful brain tumour excision, and the accidental healing journey I experienced myself after injuring my back during fieldwork. These narratives will create a rich ethnographic picture of what “new age” healing looks like in the context of lived experiences. This picture then gives rise to a theoretical discussion about how “new age” healing is conceptualised by those who undergo it. How is the healing journey elaborated in the context of life histories? Specifically, I will examine how this journey is considered to be universal and part of a wider cosmological scheme of reincarnation and metempsychosis.

In Harmony with the World and Nature. Living and Healing with Moon-Calendars.

Dr. Helmut Groschwitz, Berlin

The paper focuses with an theoretic and discourse-analytic view on the conception of world in the wide-spread area of Moon-Calendars. These types of calendars, managing everyday actions and especially aspects of health, emerge in Europe since the middle-ages (iatromathematics), but got their modern characteristics since the early 20th century by anthroposophic concepts and a boom of seemingly „authentic“ compilations in the last decade of the 20th century, meanwhile coming to „mainstream knowledge“. The calendars stress on an „ancient knowledge“ which should have been necessary for our ancestors to survive, and they also are addressed as a necessity to survive nowadays issues, including a good life and health beyond „modern medicine“. The paper wants to show the conceptions of world within these Moon-Calendars and their proposals for a better care for health and for curing diseases. Also the paper will take a view on the interweavings with comparable concepts from indigenous communities. The paper is based on my PhD-thesis, but going over this, it will take a closer look to recent performances and wants to reveal the interchange with indigenous healing practices, to gain an anthropologic view.

Religious healing worship services within a contemporary revival movement in Sweden, the Oas movement

Anders Gustavsson, (b. 1940), professor of cultural history at the Department of Cultural Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo, 1997-2010 and senior professor since 2011. PhD from the University of Lund, 1972, then reader in ethnology at Lund, part time also in Gothenburg and Bergen; professor of ethnology, University of Uppsala, 1987-1997. His research has concerned popular religion, popular movements with emphasis on temperance and revivalistic movements, coastal culture, cul-tural meetings, cultural heritage, border cultures, rites of passage, gravestone symbolism, memorial internet websites, popular paintings, tourism and cycling. 

The Swedish Oas Movement, which considers itself to be part of the worldwide charismatic movement, was started in 1984. Some new liturgical rituals have arisen suddenly and spontaneously, but their roots are planted in biblical examples. This study refers firstly to occurrences in the Oas Movement. And secondly to the argumentation or discourse (questions of the ideal) within the Oas Movement. Which factors may explain when healing is to be renewed or rediscovered? I plan to give glimpses from this ongoing project. Sources for this study consist of the newsletter Oasblad with four volumes every year. I have been an observer with photographing at large summer meetings between 2011 and 2015 and have also interviewed leading persons in the Oas Movement as the clergyman Åke Danielsson and the pediatrician Anna Aronsson. At a summer meeting in 2003, Åke Danielsson felt encouraged to start healing worship services. He had had a vision about curing invalids by letting shadows fall over them which is described in Acts 5:15. This is a way to use history and the belief in the leadership of the Holy Spirit to inspire the activities of the present. In 2000 the Anglican bishop Graham Dow was invited to a Swedish Oas meeting. He told of the healing rites he based on Jesus’ command. All baptised believers can begin to offer up prayers for the sick. This is an example of how influences come from countries outside Sweden.

At healing services, caring groups consisting of three persons lead the healing intercessions. These three are a clergyman, a layman and a doctor. The clergyman diagnoses spiritually and the doctor diagnoses physically and psychically. The third person prays continually for the one seeking to be cured. At the summer meeting in 2015 thirteen different caring groups were active and 346 people had applied ahead of time for intercession. Three daily healing worship services were held. Prayers for healing are seen as being complementary to and not as substitutes for medical treatment. This is guaranteed by the presence of a doctor in the caring group. “Prayer cloths” are also available for use by sick persons who cannot come to Oas Meetings. The caring groups pray for healing over these cloths and coat them with oil. Relatives then take the cloths home with them and place them on the invalid. The biblical example is Acts 19:11-12. Even though the Oas leadership has emphasised that it is impossible to know or to promise anything about the effects of healing prayers, personal testimonies from people who claim to have been healed has been printed in the Oasblad. A woman named Birgitta had had a painful knee for many years but “later that evening I was able to bend and twist that knee in a way that had not been possible for many years. The pain had disappeared!”

How alternative and spiritual is it?” Aromatherapy and its incorporation into the practice of feminist spirituality

Victoria Hegner, Berlin

During the last two decades aromatherapy has been widely spread in Western societies. It circumscribes a popular form of alternative healing on the base of mainly using aromatic plant oils (essential oils) and –sprays and applying them onto the skin, smelling their peculiar fragrances or/and swallowing them in minimal dosage. By offering a comparative history of aromatherapy and from there drawing close to thick description of its contemporary ritualized appliance among practitioners of a feminist spirituality the paper`s goal is twofold.

First, it will lay open to which extent aromatherapy`s development and concept as well as its specific status as an alternative to formal medicine was and still is bound to national context and its established health care systems and structures. The more aromatherapy gets incorporated into the latter, one can say, the more it gets “de-spiritualized” in its meaning. France, Great Britain and Germany – countries which are associated with specific teachings of aromatherapy (“French school”, “British school”, “German School”) – will serve as exemplary and in that as well emblematic cases.

The dense historical and national contextualization of the practice of aromatherapy prepares the ground for the second part of the paper. By drawing close to aroma-therapeutic practices as they get incorporated into contemporary healing ceremonies in feminist spirituality in Germany/Berlin it will first be shown what kind of historical continuities of certain “schools” (i.e. German vs. French school) can be traced and second in what ways aromas, fragrances and oils are used to invoke healing spirits, gods, “energies”, and how thus the spiritual meaning of aromatherapy is tried to be “preserved” and yet decisively reshaped.

Religious Belief in the Anti-Vaccination Movement: A Perspective from the United States

Dr. Andrea Kitta, Ph.D., East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina

Dr. Andrea Kitta is a folklorist with a specialty in medicine, belief, and the supernatural. She is an assistant professor at East Carolina University. Her current research includes: vaccines, contagion and contamination, stigmatized diseases, disability, and health information on the Internet. Dr. Kitta is the recipient of ECU’s Teacher/Scholar Award (2015-2016), the Fearing Award for Excellence in Teaching (2010-2011), and her monograph, Vaccinations and Public Concern in History: Legend, Rumor, and Risk Perception, won the McConnell Book Award in 2012. She is co-editor for the journalContemporary Legend, the co-editor of Diagnosing Folklore and is currently working on The Kiss of Death: Contamination, Contagion, and Folklore (Utah State University Press).

One question I am often asked when interviewed by European and Canadian news organizations about the anti-vaccination movement in the United States is the role of religion within the movement. I have found that many of these interviews have assumed that this movement in the United States is associated with religious conservativism, small unique religious groups (such as the Amish), or a general rejection of medicine as it goes against God’s plan. However, in the United States, the common belief is that these groups are more strongly associated with a lack of religion. Anti-vaccinators are seen in the United States as liberal, agnostic or atheist, educated professionals who believe they know better than health organizations and the government. In reality, the beliefs of vaccination-resistant and vaccination-questioning individuals are complicated and do not adhere to any one belief system, nor do they fit any of the exoteric stereotypes about them. In my paper, I will discuss my thirteen years of fieldwork with those questioning vaccination and the complex issues and problems their belief systems present to the United States and global health.

Alternative and ‘Orthodox’ Christian Religious Healing. Case studies of ‘Healing Energies’
at the Kuklen Monastery (Bulgaria)

Magdalena Lubańska, Institute of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology, University of Warsaw

The religious culture of Orthodox Christian believers in Bulgaria forms a conglomerate of beliefs which either are post-Byzantine, post-Ottoman, and post-traditional in origin or draw on alternative religious movements. This conjunction of traditional, nominally Orthodox Christian religiosity and esoteric influences of new religious movements has a long tradition in Bulgaria, hibernating in various ideological variants, including socialist and neoliberal ones. Religious leaders play an important formative role in this process. In the closing decades of communist rule in Bulgaria such leaders received a measure of support from the state. Today, they work to keep alive the memory of charismatic figures as the famous prophetess Baba Vanga or Peter Deunov, founder of the White Brotherhood. The influence of White Brotherhood/Deunovian spirituality, an esoteric movement based on Theosophy, exerts a powerful effect on the religious imageries of Orthodox believers, who increasingly come to believe that they can harvest positive energy directly from nature, without recourse to religious hierarchs. As a result, icons, water, sacred springs (ayazmo), and other material objects located in Orthodox shrines come to be perceived as carriers of cosmic energy, or some other kind of vaguely defined energy related to the location’s physical characteristics – contrary to Orthodox Christian theological doctrine, where agency is seen as ultimately deriving from divine energy/grace. Believers often consider as sacred those physical objects whose agency is categorically dismissed by Orthodox clergy (such as a set of healing chains located in the monastery in Kuklen). Those practices are resisted by some Orthodox hierarchs, who exercise a variety of methods to discourage believers from drawing on Deunovian teachings. Based on material collected during field research conducted at the Kuklen monastery I demonstrate what the two sides of the conflict (including ordinary believers who may or may not realise that they are involved in a matter of religious controversy) understand by “wellbeing” and “healing energies”, and how they seek to enforce their own religious imageries through somatic and discursive practices.

Turning to Jesus for the treatment of substance abuse

Igor Mikeshin, PhD Candidate in Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Helsinki, Finland

My paper is an account of my ethnographic fieldwork in the Russian Baptist rehabilitation ministry for the addicted people. Russia is one of the world leaders in heroin and alcohol consumption, and the only rehabilitation the state "narcology" can offer is stigmatizing, punitive, and predominantly focused on the chemical aspect of substance use dependence. In this situation, the only treatment programs providing relatively reliable results are non-governmental Twelve-Step groups and religious ministries.

The ministry I am focusing on treats narcotic addiction with the complex mechanism I call Christian rehabilitation. Bodily and moral components of the program are so tightly connected that I even regard them as two aspects of one two-dimensional process: the addicted people are rehabilitated by the means of religious conversion, and they are converted to a particular kind of Christianity by the means of rehabilitation.

The rehab facilities, run by the ministry, use Christian rehabilitation to address the twofold nature of addiction, chemical and psychological. The chemical aspect is tackled by a simple abstinence, enforced by a prolonged isolation and strict discipline in the rehabs. The psychological component is treated by a radical moral transformation, a particular kind of born-again Evangelical conversion. My paper unfolds the narrative of conversion, constructed under heavily impact of the 150-years history of Russian Evangelicals, linguistics of the Russian Bible, and street and prison experience of the rehabilitants themselves.

Alternative Healing Practices as a Resource for Self-Empowerment

Dorothea Lüddeckens Barbara Zeugin

Alternative healing practices are diffusing into conventional medicine. For what was a marginal phenomenon has become quite popular within the contemporary field of medicine. Whilst aroma therapy, anthroposophic me- dicine or acupuncture were merely performed outside the academic medical field, they are now available in public health facilities. What are the reasons for the popularisation of alternative healing practices? This paper’s aim is to discuss this against the background of alternative healing practices at the end of life. The data stem from six case studies that have been conducted in several Swiss hospitals, a hospice and a nursing home for the elderly. Two of these health facilities specialise in anthroposophic medicine, whereas the others include alternative healing practices either institutionally yet selec- tively or out of self-initiative. With qualitative research methods, mainly observation and interviews, we’ve been able to identify alternative healing practices as a resource for “self-empowerment”. The empowerment of the self appears to be especially significant in dealing with a specific situation that is experienced/defined as problematic. According to this, alternative healing practices function as a resource in view of terminal illness and death for dealing with two particular types of challenges:

1. Meaning: loss of meaning in the face of terminal illness and death This applies to religious as well as medical meaning. Traditional churches have lost their monopoly on meaning, there is no shared canopy of meaning anymore. This also applies to terminal illness and death. In the struggle for interpretive predominance, conventional ideas of a Christian soul or paradise are often not perceived as supportive. With regard to medical meaning, conventional medicine is often perceived as fragmentary and mechanistic. On that account, illness is reduced to a diagnose, a person to his or her illness. And medical treatment is predominantly oriented towards curing. If healing is no longer an option, however, the medical treatment is perceived to have failed.

2. Agency: loss of agency in the face of terminal illness and death There are terminally ill and dying people on one side. Early in the process of terminal illness, patients forfeit their capacity of acting. They have no longer the ability to control the course of their life let alone their illness. And they continuously depend on others, including family and health professionals. Even the latter, on the other side, see themselves faced with a loss of agency when it comes to caring for terminally ill and dying patients. Although all occupational groups in the field of palliative care might engage in alternative healing practices, may it be a meditating health care chaplain or an anthroposophic head chef, we are focussing on nurses. This is due to the fact that they’re the most present when it comes to the final stage, the actual moment of dying.

Whereas the loss of meaning and agency at the end of life offers a spe- cific reason for the frequent recourse to alternative concepts and healing practices, self-empowerment constitutes the consequence of this recourse. In other words: Alternative healing practices are a means for self-empowerment against the problem of lost meaning respectively agency.

The goal of the paper at hand is to characterise several traits of al- ternative healing practices that explain this capacity of self-empowerment. Special attention will be drawn to aspects like low-threshold access, high sensitivity to the environment because of a loosely coupled field with weak ties, integration of spirituality and patient centered orientation for action.

Body, Mind and Healing: Brazilian Spiritism

Dr. Erin P. Moore, Department of Anthropology, University of Southern California

Spiritism is a religion that is practiced by less than 5% of the Brazilian population; however, most Brazilians who suffer from diseases incurable by biomedicine seek the help of a Spiritist healing center. For the last eight years I have visited the town of Abadania in the central highlands of Brazil where the world famous Spiritist medium John of God treats patients from around the world. John of God is an unconscious trance medium who is said to channel 47 different entities for the purposes of healing the body as well as the spirit.  At his healing center, called the “Casa,” there are meditation and prayer halls, silent gardens, “crystal baths,” a pharmacy, shared sacred soup and a sacred waterfall. The medium is most famous for cutting his patients without anesthesia or antisepsis. The incision tests followers’ faith and directs the spirits’ healing energies. Based on ethnographic research, this paper discusses: What is the Spiritist worldview and how is it incorporated into the Catholic culture of Brazil?  What is the Spiritist concept of the mind/body/spirit/and the afterlife?  What is “healing” within this tradition?  How does one judge “effective” treatment?  How do Spiritism and biomedicine interact?  

Kraków’s chakra – healing or conflicting?

Anna Niedźwiedź, Jagiellonian University in Kraków

In the first half of the 20th century, under the influence of theosophy and orientalist interests shared by some Polish thinkers and writers, stories about “Kraków’s secret energetic place” emerged and developed – around the 1980s - into a widely known and consistent narrative about “the Kraków’s chakra”. Nowadays, all over Poland, popular discourses about Kraków associate this city with the presence of one of “seven earth chakras” (in this story, next to Kraków, other “sacred cities” are mentioned - as hosting six remaining earth chakras - e.g. Rome, Jerusalem, and Delhi or other “sacred places” as Mecca, Glastonbury, Egyptian pyramids etc.). Curious visitors, pilgrims, tourists, people seeking spiritual and bodily healing visit the Wawel hill in Kraków, where the chakra is believed to be located. As the Wawel hill hosts the most important monumental and symbolic buildings in the city– the Catholic Cathedral (with royal tombs) and the Royal Castle (with the royal historical treasury) – the location of the chakra and the healing practices that people try to perform in this public space trigger conflicting discourses and reactions.

On the one hand the Roman Catholic authorities reveal their concern with a new “miraculous place” emerging just next to a “traditional” pilgrimage site, famous from its various relics and still popular among people seeking religious healing (lately a new addition appeared in the cathedral with a reliquary containing drops of blood of the late pope, St. John Paul II, once the archbishop residing in the cathedral). On the other hand, managers of the Royal Castle State Art Collection seek to stop the development of the chakra cult, by limiting access to the area which is believed to emanate the strongest spiritual and healing power. Some art historians claim that the increasing popularity of the chakra might destroy the historical national monuments located on the Wawel hill, because devotees not only meditate on the spot (disturbing the Castle’s visitors) but also want to touch a wall located in one of the Castle’s courtyard corners.

Presenting all these conflicting and various discourses, this paper seeks to focus on grassroots healing practices related to Kraków’s chakra and the space of the Wawel hill. It will examine how, in practice, people combine the “official” Church-promoted miraculous powers attached to the Cathedral and national discourses concerning the royal heritage of the Wawel hill with their seeking for spiritual and bodily wellbeing related to their beliefs in the power of the chakra.

Alternative healing and new Hungarian mythology – “That can only happen here and only with us”

István Povedák

The object of the proposed paper is to present an ongoing research project dedicated to map and describe some of the narratives and rites focusing on community healing, the “healing of the nation” in the contemporary new Hungarian national mythology. The presentation will have two major focuses: a) alternative healing rituals practiced with Hungarian national symbols [sometimes at ethnic-specific healing places in Hungary and also in the Szekler/Székely region of Transylvania (Romania)]; b) the identification and comparative analysis of healing narratives and rituals in the new Hungarian mythologies. The relation between alternative healing and new Hungarian mythology will be explained based on interviews, participant observations and the qualitative investigation of representative mythic narratives

Spirituality, Health and Food within Post-Soviet Nature-based Spiritualities: The Ideas of Vegetarianism in the Vissarion and the Anastasia Movements

Dr. Rasa Pranskevičiūtė, Lithuanian University of Health Sciences, Department of Health Psychology, Vytautas Magnus University, Department of Cultural Studies and Ethnology

The paper focuses on two nature-based spirituality movements which emerged in Russia in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and since have spread to Central and Eastern Europe and beyond: the Vissarion and the Anastasia movements.

The paper discusses the ideas and expressions of vegetarianism (as well as veganism and raw-foodism) within both movements. Vegetarianism for Vissarionites is a part of a spiritual practice, whereas Anastasians do not explicitly link vegetarianism with a possibility for a spiritual development, but they tend to practice it and consider it as a part of natural and healthy life style. On the other hand, similar social (social resistance) and transcendental aspects (seek for unity with nature and God) are characteristic to alternative diets of both movements. Equally the philosophies of both movements, which are considered to be an urban phenomena (urban dwelers is the majority of the involved ones), quite romanticize the life in nature. A possibility to live with home grown food is romanticised here respectively. The paper explores the meaning of religious identity and how it influences – and is influenced by – local and global cultures ultimately producing a religious subculture. Particular attention is given to the role of these dynamics in the development of the Western New Age spirituality cultic milleu and the post-Soviet cultural heritage in Eastern Europe, as well as in the communication of Western cultural influence on the religiosity in the region. The presented findings are based on data obtained from the fieldwork in 2004-2016, including participant observation and interviews with respondents in the Baltics, Russia and Ukraine.

Evangelical Acupuncture: The Healing Benefits of Complementary Religion

Leonard Norman Primiano, Ph.D. is Professor and Chair of Religious Studies and Co-Director of the Honors Program at Cabrini University, Radnor, Pennsylvania, USA. He is series editor for the upcoming six-volume A Cultural History of Religion (Bloomsbury) and editor of Vernacular Catholicism:  Folkloristic Studies of Catholic Culture. A Fellow of the American Folklore Society, he is Co-Chair of the Folklore and Religion Seminar, American Academy of Religion, and Co-Chair of the Folk Belief and Religious Folklife section of the American Folklore Society.

The popularity of the traditional Chinese medical technique known as acupuncture has grown tremendously in the United States in the twenty-first century. Independent acupuncture clinics are found in large urban areas, as well as suburban and even more rural localities. Within the normative medical contexts of major allopathic hospitals and particularly alternative medical units and integrative medicine services associated with allopathic cancer treatment centers throughout the country, acupuncture is offered as one of many wellness or “complementary” therapies. Many practitioners of acupuncture in America are Chinese emigres engaging in a medical art learned in their homeland and valuable as an occupation in their new country. This paper will consider the significance of religion not for those individuals seeking acupuncture but for acupuncture practitioners themselves in North America. In particular this presentation will address: 1) to what degree acupuncture as a practice is associated with a particular religious system of belief; 2) the varied perceptions of acupuncture by practitioners of normative religious traditions in America, particularly Christianity. This paper explores these issues through the distinctive lens of one particularly adept acupuncture professional; it explores the specific vernacular religious negotiations of a Chinese-American acupuncturist, brought up in the atheistic Communistic Chinese system who, as a convert to Evangelical Christianity, now negotiates the spiritual and healing elements of acupuncture with the possible conflicts of a Biblically-based American Evangelical Christian literalism.

John of God: A Brazilian Faith Healer Goes Global

Associate Professor Cristina Rocha is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow and Director of the Religion and Society Research Cluster, Western Sydney University, Australia. She co-edits the Journal of Global Buddhism and the Religion in the Americas series, Brill. Her research focuses on the intersections of globalisation, migration and religion. Her publications include: John of God: The Globalisation of Brazilian Faith Healing (Oxford University Press, forthcoming), The Diaspora of Brazilian Religions (with M. Vásquez, Brill, 2013), Buddhism in Australia (with M. Barker, Routledge, 2010), Zen in Brazil: The Quest for Cosmopolitan Modernity (Hawaii University Press, 2006).

John of God is a Brazilian faith healer who in just over a decade has become an international healer superstar – visited by thousands of the desperately ill, the wealthy, celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Shirley MacLaine, and an increasing array of media. What sets John of God apart are his spectacular healing methods. He performs operations using kitchen knives, scissors, and scalpels without anaesthetics or asepsis. He allegedly takes on ‘entities’ (spirits) in a trance and does not remember the operations when he becomes conscious again. Most people claim they do not feel pain and do not develop infections. Drawing on multi-sited fieldwork in Brazil, the U.S., U.K., Australia, Germany and New Zealand, this paper focuses on experiences of healing of foreigners in John of God’s healing centre. Through these narratives, I show that healing is efficacious cross-culturally because John of God reinstates a connection between healing and religion, constructs a context that gives meaning to illness, and empowers people as they surrender to a higher power (God and the entities/spirits). All this offers hope when biomedicine has taken it away.

Spirituality and Healing in Portugal and Greece: a comparative approach of alternative therapeutics

Dr Eugenia Roussou, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, CRIA/FCSH, Universidade Nova Lisboa

Eugenia Roussou, social anthropologist, is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for Research in Anthropology (CRIA), Faculty of Human and Social Sciences, Universidade Nova Lisboa. She has conducted extensive ethnographic fieldwork in Greece on the belief of the evil eye, touching upon themes of religion, spirituality, pluralism and performances of ritual healing. Her current research project, funded by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) focuses on new forms of (or ‘New Age’) spirituality, religious pluralism, complementary/alternative healing, neo-shamanism, sensory modes of perception and spiritual creativity in present-day Portugal and Greece.

Affected by multiculturalism, globalization, and the current socio-economic crisis, contemporary Portuguese and Greek religiosity has been going through a process of transformation in the last few years. In this context, spiritual practices that belong to the so-called ‘New Age’ phenomenon (Heelas 1996; Hanegraaff 1996; Sutcliffe 2003), including the performance of alternative therapeutics, are becoming more and more popular. From yoga and traditional chinese medicine to shamanic healing and tarot, the therapeutic pathways that people in Portugal and Greece follow during their everyday lives are multiple and diverse. Based on anthropological field research in Lisbon and Athens, the aim of this paper is to examine the diversity of alternative healing practices, by providing a comparative ethnographic account of the complex relationship between spirituality and healing in Portugal and Greece; in two countries where, until recent years at least, individuals were hesitant to transcend certain boundaries in terms of denominational religion and (bio)medicine. Through specific ethnographic examples of both ‘healers’ and ‘patients’, questions will be raised as to how individuals these days manage to surpass such sociocultural restrictions, by negotiating and ultimately challenging their belief systems, both in the field of religiosity and that of therapeutics.

Integrating Polarity Therapy in Yoga

Caroline Vander Stichele, Universiteit van Amsterdam

This paper focuses on the way in which Eric Gomes, a Flemish physical therapist and yoga teacher, integrated the principles of polarity therapy in his own Hatha Yoga courses. Gomes (1935-) was one of the pioneers of yoga in Belgium. In 1971 he started his own yoga center in Ghent. A few years earlier, in 1968, he had heard about the existence of Randolph Stone’s Polarity Therapy and decided to read his work. Later he also followed a training at the Institute for Polarity in Zürich, where he obtained the degree of therapist in 1987.

Polarity Therapy originated with Randolph Stone (1890-1981), who was born in Austria, but moved to the US in 1909 where he studied osteopathy, chiropractic, naturopathy, naprapathy and neuropathy. He developed his own natural health care system, called Polarity Therapy, which seeks to balance the electromagnetic currents in the human body. Stone published several books on his method. His successors founded the American Polarity Therapy Association (APTA) and by now several international associations exist as well.

In my presentation I will first outline the basic principles of polarity therapy. In the second part I will focus on the way in which Gomes sought to integrate polarity therapy in his own yoga courses. According to Gomes, this method changed both his yoga practice and teaching. Although polarity therapy was originally developed as a physical therapy for individual clients, Gomes shifted its focus by applying it on a psychological level in his collective yoga classes. In this paper I will discuss why Gomes thought it was useful to integrate this method in his yoga classes and how he did so. This part of my paper will be based on interviews with Gomes. Finally, I will situate this example in the larger context of therapeutic applications of yoga in the modern world.

The Emergence of Medical Pluralism in Estonia: When a Physician Becomes a Spiritual Healer

Marko Uibu, Lecturer of communication studies, PhD student of religious studies, University of Tartu

Compared to the Western Europe, the medical pluralization has been more rapid (and probably more conflictual) in Post-Soviet Estonia. My on-going research project about the medical pluralism and alternative-religious approaches to health combines data from quantitative surveys, qualitative in-depth interviews, and a case study about an (in)famous Estonian gynaecologist and spiritual teacher Luule Viilma. Viilma's syncretic teachings combined elements from several sources, including folk religion, the New Age movement, and Christianity, with their religiosity mostly disguised. The Estonian example suggests that religious and spiritual ideas are present even in the least religious societies. Although usually latent, such ideas become activated when people have specific reasons to turn to spiritual or religious sources. Therefore, I will argue that health-related spiritual teachings with their religiosity disguised have been more effective than traditional religions in introducing religious meanings and frames in Estonia.

Averting Apocalypse and Healing the Soul of the World: Spiritual Technologies, Prayer Power, and the Salvific Practices of the Aetherius Society

Daniel Wojcik, University of Oregon

The Aetherius Society is one of the best-known and longest-lived flying saucer organizations in the world, an alternative religious group which has warned humanity since 1955 that the apocalyptic destruction of the planet may be averted through healing prayers and other spiritual practices. Based in Los Angeles, the Society was founded by George King (1919-1997), originally from England, who asserted that he was selected as the primary channel for extraterrestrial messages transmitted from a space being named Aetherius. King said that in 1954 he was contacted telepathically by the Cosmic Intelligences orbiting Earth and he was given messages concerning the salvation of the world. According to King, imminent worldly destruction may be prevented if the dangers of atomic weapons are acknowledged, and the numerous other destructive tendencies of humanity are recognized and confronted. To save the planet from annihilation and heal the “soul” of the world, human beings must embrace the healing power of prayer, engage in specific techno-spiritual ritual practices and pilgrimages, and promote the metaphysical teachings of the Cosmic Masters (including Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Krishna, Mars Sector 6, and Jupiter 92).

In their rituals, members of the Aetherius Society use Spiritual Energy Batteries that harness and amplify their healing prayers for world salvation; this Prayer Power, a form of psychic healing energy, is then discharged periodically to avert or mitigate potential planetary catastrophes, such as the outbreak of war, terrorist attacks, deadly viruses, natural disasters, and other threats to the future of humanity. The various prayers, rituals, and spiritual Operations performed by the Aetherians are intended to promote planetary healing, alleviate human suffering, and prevent the end of the world. The Aetherians claim that their prayers, amplified by the spiritual technology provided by the Cosmic Masters, are responsible for the end of the Cold War and for preventing many disasters such as devastating earthquakes, terrorist attacks, and the perpetual threat of invasion by evil space beings. The ultimate goal of the Aetherians involved in these sacred practices is to prevent worldly annihilation, to save every soul on the planet, and to transform planetary consciousness through acts of spiritual healing. The healing of individuals who are suffering from life trauma and personal adversity also is an important part of Aetherian events and ceremonies.

Based in fieldwork and illustrated with visual examples, this presentation explores the healing rituals and beliefs of the Aetherians, their notions of averting apocalypse, and the appeal of their ritual performances. The practices of the Aetherians provide insights into the concerns, fears, and hopes of our era, and address existential issues of ultimate concern, offering an alternative form of spirituality that attempts to heal the modern world.

Different Forms of Ayurveda in the Czech Republic: Negotiating its Representation and Meaning

Alžběta Wolfová, PhD Candidate, Faculty of Humanities, Charles University in Prague

Based on ethnographic field-work within one Ayurvedic community in the Czech Republic I look at three different types of Ayurveda. These types are illustrated by case studies of three Ayurvedic lecturers and practitioners. Exploring ways of presenting, teaching, studying and practising Ayurveda, I examine the multiple ways of its construction within a specific environment. Building upon heterogeneous interpretations of Ayurveda in Euro-American regions which are usually based on the assumption of the existence of some authentic Indian version of it I look at the construction and role of authenticity in Ayurveda constitution. How is authentic Ayurveda defined by its lectures and practitioners and how these interpretations influence the success of treatment and expertise building of Ayurveda(s) under study. I interpret mutual dynamics of these forms or strategies considering to what extent are these options between different versions of reality (Mol 1999) looking at good and bad passages (Moser & Law 1999) in the process of its constitution. Furthermore, in the time of expectation of inevitable statutory regulation and integration of traditional and Complementary Medicine (TCM) into official health care system across different countries in the world, the aim is to explore how one kind of TCM could be diverse even conceptually within one locality and a community of this particular (medical) knowledge system and what actors are mobilised in the negotiation of its form.

Neo-shamanism in France and Italy as a healing and learning practice

Denise Lombardi, École Pratique des Hautes Études Paris/Università degli Studi Milano Bicocca.

Spiritual research and physical wellness are the two basic constituents through which the argumentation about health is built up in contemporary western world.

Both spiritual and therapeutic research share the same objective attainable through activities borrowed from other disciplines like yoga, traditional medicine, Eastern philosophies and neo-shamanic practices.

My field of research is focused on how neo-shamanism is being developed and conjugated in western world, being it considered a form of therapeutic primitivism populated by small fleeting groups gathering together during meetings and seminars (with fee) in France and Italy in order to learn new exotic healing techniques.

The purpose of this paper is to lay special stress on the modalities used by western participants (mostly middle class women, aged 40-50) to embody and assimilate the techniques they learn during seminars. The efficacy of the therapeutic process derives from the capacity of participants to play both the role of the patient and the apprentice at the same time. During seminars, participants are requested to learn shamanic practices aimed at their own healing and to use them on other people at a later stage.

In this context, the neo-shaman is no more the one who performs the journey but turns into a guide for the patient who travels alone from the Otherworld without using psychotropic substances and interacts with spirits. The neo-shaman plays the role of a teacher-therapist in front of the novice-patient; both are involved in a healing and education process where teachings are all about the possibility to raise awareness in exotic cosmologies by learning visualization techniques capable of carrying participants into the shamanic universe fitting the western world demands. In order to better describe such healing practices and their representations I will analyze some neo-shamanic seminars in France and Italy I have taken part in.

European neo-shamans knowledge resulting from modern psychological techniques, spiritual literature, trips to exotic places, Michael Harner teachings, inspiration from indigenous cosmology, and a panoply of instances taken from the universe of New Religious Movement is used to reconnect people with a lost state of nature, and healing personal and universal troubles.

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