Sergio Romero discusses the politics of sickness and healing
By Saralyn McKinnon-Crowley and Clare Callahan
In Guatemala, a complex relationship exists between language, ethnicity, and social class. Though the national language of Guatemala is Spanish, many Guatemalan people’s native tongue is a Mayan language. Among these people are the Ixhil, a Maya people indigenous to Guatemala. The Ixhil people suffered persecution during the Guatemalan civil war, from which the country is still recovering. Consequently, many NGOs, including local health units, still focus their efforts on the Ixhil. The distinction between the national and indigenous languages is important because, as Dr. Sergio Romero (Associate Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese) observes, ideas about colonialism and ethnicity are intertwined, formed, and expressed through one’s language. The experience of persecution and the resulting social and political awareness cannot, perhaps, be expressed as effectively in the language of the persecutor.
J. Brent Crosson discusses how colonial government has shaped definitions of religion, science, and spirituality
By Saralyn McKinnon-Crowley
What is the difference between religion, science, and superstition? How a society or nation defines what constitutes religion has important legal implications. If the state considers a set of spiritual practice to constitute a religion, those practices will be protected under freedom of religion laws; without those protections, spiritual practices are vulnerable to becoming criminalized. Practitioners of outlawed religions may be compelled to redefine their practices in order to remain on the right side of the law, and spiritual groups that are not considered official religions under the governmental definitions will not be able to claim the financial and legal benefits that official religious organizations are often granted. Religious practices, however, often challenge the binaries that serve as the very basis for the classification of religions as legal entities—binaries, for example, between spirituality and science or spirituality and superstition. In contemporary Trinidad, efforts to define the problem-solving practices that together are known as Obeah illustrate some of the many challenges of distinguishing and defining religious practices from other spiritual activities.
Of course, the next morning always comes and I find myself in my clinic again, the exam room speaking aloud in all of its blatant metaphors—the huge clock above where my patients sit implacably measuring lifetimes; the space itself narrow and compressed as a sonnet—and immediately I’m back to thinking about writing. Soon enough, my patients start to arrive, and the way they want me to understand what they are feeling only immerses me more deeply in language’s compelling alchemy: “The pain is like a cold, bitter wind blowing through my womb,” murmurs a young infertile woman from Guatemala with what I have diagnosed much less eloquently as chronic pelvic pain. “Please, doctor, can you heal me?”
Alan Friedman, Ph.D. and Craig Hurwitz, MD advocate for palliative care in HI’s Faculty Fellows Seminar on Health, Well-Being, Healing
By Saralyn McKinnon-Crowley
How have medical advances over the long 20th century altered the ways western cultures represent illness, death, and dying? Before the turn of the 20th century, people living in North America and Britain commonly confronted death in their own homes. The bed was often the site not only of conception and birth but of death as well. The dead and dying were familiar, commonplace, and domestic, and, consequently, the practices and rituals associated with death and dying were typically supervised by women, who commanded the domestic sphere. Yet rapidly-changing advances in science and medicine over the course of the 20th century have dramatically altered our experiences and perception of death. Geoffrey Gorer argues in his essay, “The Pornography of Death,” that death has replaced sex as the ultimate taboo in the United States and the United Kingdom; it has become sanitized and discrete from our everyday lives. Medical doctors who were once mostly helpless at best or harmful at worst to the sick, have become, with medical advances, newly able to intervene in illness and promote healing. Continue reading The Sanitization of Death and Dying→
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