A blanket rug and medicine tubes that Navajo practitioners incorporate in rituals to restore bodily and spiritual harmony.

Painting by Neil Gower
Many religious traditions acknowledge the possibility of “spiritual healing.” Belief in miraculous cures remains part of the theology of countless Christians as one aspect of their broader commitment to care for the sick and dying. Even people of faith who are skeptical of focally intended divine action, which makes particular things happen at particular places, concede that religion can make a difference in times of physical and mental suffering. Secular movements that focus on the integration of mind, body, and spirit in the interest of promoting healing are proliferating throughout the world. We live in an era when we are witnessing what some have called a “rapprochement between medicine and religion”—or at least an interest on the part of medical scientists in investigating the relationship between what patients believe about the existence and nature of God and treatment outcomes. It seems important, therefore, to try to define spiritual healing. Does the phrase connote any healing that isn't completely explicable in Western biomedical terms? Forms of healing that are explicable in non-Western medical systems with a long- established and codified pedigree? Forms of healing that involve a suspension of normal scientific regularities? Healing of the spirit that does not necessarily involve physical amelioration? What other assumptions may surround the various kinds of spiritual healing practiced within the Christian community and those practiced outside of it? Beyond these key definitional questions, there are other sets of issues that seem ripe for study. What characteristic forms of ritual, prayer, or other “spiritual” activities are involved in spiritual healing? What is their relevance, the relevance of a healing community, and, more generally, the relevance of faith? What are the aims of spiritual healing and how should its effectiveness be assessed? What is the current scientific evidence that spiritual healing has demonstrable physiological effects? How are the charges of “gullibilism” or superstition to be averted? Could an acknowledgement of the existence of spiritual healing affect public policy? What forms of spiritual healing are appropriate to a hospital context? Finally, the central theological question would seem to be: What is to be learned (or speculated) about the relation of God to the world, and of religion to science, by evidences of spiritual healing? The purpose for which thirteen medical and social scientists, philosophers, and theologians meet at Queens’ College, Cambridge, is to consider the broader issues raised by the possibility of a spiritual aspect to healing within the context of conventional medicine, in particular its impact on our worldview and the perception we have of our place in nature. Their conversation takes place under the aegis of the John Templeton Foundation.

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