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Medicine and religion: a historical perspective 

Medicine and religion: a historical perspective
Medicine and religion: a historical perspective

Gary B. Ferngren

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date: 29 June 2022

To many who live in a modern secular society a connection between medicine and religion is not readily apparent. To associate religion with healing seems to be an anachronism that is incompatible with scientific medicine. In fact, the two have had a close association since the earliest human attempts to heal the human body. In the ancient world, when little was known about medicine or the structure of the human body, healers realized that they could do little to restore health to those who were ill. The causes of disease were mysterious and often ascribed to magic or divine beings. Of common diseases only the symptoms could ordinarily be treated; for more serious conditions, healers hoped that by appealing to supernatural forces they might gain help. Those who attempted healing did not need to be priests or physicians to understand that where they could do so little, the best (and perhaps the only) hope of physical restoration came from the gods. Religion today still intersects with medicine in surprisingly diverse ways, some of them assuming roles not very different from the forms they took in the ancient world: helping the sick to live with pain and suffering, providing compassionate care for those who are ill, and offering spiritual consolation to the sick and dying.

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