Wellbeing, Harm, and Religion

Specific ideas about what constitutes harm and wellbeing have been historically shaped by different religious traditions considerably. Throughout the history of the human species, illnesses, injuries, and diseases were often dealt with through religious rituals, as evidenced from the earliest Sumerian incantations from the 26th century BC to the contemporary evangelical faith healing.

Some ritualized acts incorporate what can be seen as harm or violence, like genital mutilations or flesh hook insertions. Nevertheless, these same acts can be also perceived as leading towards wellbeing (of community, individual, deity, etc.). Alternatively, consider other practices more directly aimed at the wellbeing of mind and soul, that may even result in a feedback loop affecting the physical body, like shamanic trance induction, baptism, or meditation. But not only rituals – embracing of religious worldview as an interpretative framework may also substantially affect one’s wellbeing.

Different conceptions of harm and wellbeing derived from different religious traditions retain their relevance in many locales across the globe even today, as they did in history. They intertwine(d) with “secular” medical practices; religious actors can formulate stances towards modern medical technologies, like vaccination and blood transfusion; and religion sometimes articulates alternative theories about the nature and origin of various diseases and about their treatment.

With this conference, we aim to create a platform for the study of the intersections amongst religion, health, and diverse cultural conceptions of harm and wellbeing.

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