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Magic, Healing, and Religion Workshop

Date:  May 26, 2021

Time:  10:00 am-3:40 pm 

This workshop proposes an interdisciplinary and inter-religious approach to healing in religious traditions. Religious healing can be syncretic between traditions, relegated to the margins of official religion, or use non-mechanical logics to address imbalances of body, spirit, and social identity. By comparing religions, and by fostering dialogue between different fields, we hope to understand the relationship between religion, science, magic, and healing.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Register Here

Keynote Speaker:

Dr. Matt Melvin-Koushki

Associate Professor, Peter and Bonnie McCausland Fellow of History, Department of History, University of South Carolina


A 14th century miniature. Distributing the matzot and sweetmeat during passover. Image via the British Library.

“Food That Revives: Healing Rituals in Ancient Jewish Texts”

11:00 AM-11:40 AM

Presented by Dr. Hanna Tervanotko and Katharine Fitzgerald

“Dangers to the Body and Mind Caused by Meditation in the Chinese Buddhist Tradition”

1:00 PM-1:40 PM

Presented by Dr. James Benn

Ancient incantation bowl from Babylonia. Image via the Penn Museum.

“Kabbalists, Sufis, and Solomon’s Magic Ring: Magic Healing Amulets as a History of Judeo-Islamic Exchange in Morocco and Islamic Spain”

1:40 PM-2:20 PM

Presented by Dr. Ellen Amster

“The Alchemy of Ritual and Words: Healing Grief in Contemporary Japan”

2:20 PM-3:00 PM

Presented by Dr. Mark Rowe.

Caring for the Dead in Contemporary Japan. Image via Dr. Mark Rowe.
A traditional 'Bonesetter' healer from Brittany. Image via "Bonjour From Brittany"

“Laer Amann, Guérisseurs, Priests and Prayers”

3:00 PM-3:40 PM

Presented by Dr. Ellen Badone

Keynote Address

Healing Is Believing: Medical Magic between Science and Religion
It is well known that premodern Western medicine, Islamic, Jewish and Christian, was primarily Galenic and Avicennan. Less well known is the fact that it was also often occult. As a rule, physicians and pharmacologists sought to extrapolate from visible to nonvisible data, harness mind-matter and mind-mind interactions and activate cosmic correspondences in diagnosing and treating disease. Other occult sciences like alchemy, astrology and geomancy were routinely utilized as well. Of course, most Western and Westernized physicians today scorn the occult as religious superstition, hence fundamentally opposed to science. Yet they still acknowledge the placebo effect—a form of magic by any premodern definition—as one of the most powerful in modern medicine, and certain forms of “alternative medicine” such as acupuncture and homeopathy are now insurable. To help decolonize the historiography of premodern medical traditions, Western or otherwise, I propose that we dispense with outmoded nineteenth-century materialist cosmology to reconceive of modern medical practice as sometimes technically occult too.
Matthew Melvin-Koushki

Matthew Melvin-Koushki (PhD Yale) is Associate Professor and McCausland Fellow of History at the University of South Carolina. He specializes in early modern Islamicate intellectual and imperial history, with a philological focus on the theory and practice of the occult sciences in Timurid-Safavid Iran and the broader Persianate world to the nineteenth century, and a disciplinary focus on history of science, history of philosophy and history of the book.


photo of Ellen Amster

Ellen Amster

Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine and Department of Religious Studies | Jason A. Hannah Chair in the History of Medicine

photo of Mark Rowe

Mark Rowe

Associate Professor and Acting Chair of Graduate Affairs, Religious Studies

photo of Ellen Badone

Ellen Badone

Professor and Chair of Graduate Affairs, Religious Studies

photo of James A. Benn

James A. Benn

Professor | Director, McMaster University Centre for Buddhist Studies

photo of Katharine Fitzgerald

Katharine Fitzgerald

Ph.D. Student, Biblical Field

Magic, Healing, and Religion Workshop

Register Here

This workshop is co-sponsored by the Hannah Unit in the History of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences.