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Medicine and Catholicism since the late 19th Century

By studying the interactions between medicine and Catholicism across Europe, the United States and beyond, this Scientific Research Network (WOG) aims to extricate the study of medicine and religion from the modernization paradigm and produce a more nuanced and diversified view of both traditions. For this, we build on recent interconnected histories of medicine and Catholicism, in which storylines of conflict have been replaced by histories of entanglement and cross-overs. Similarly, scholars of religion and social movements have started to reassess the relationship between Catholicism and modernity, for instance by focusing on progressive movements within the Church. Historians of health and sexuality have drawn attention to the militancy of progressive Catholics to have the Church adopt a more positive stance towards contraception and abortion. New scholarly attention is also paid to the role of missionaries in colonial health care, albeit with a stronger focus on Protestant missions than on the Catholic Church, which historically took much longer to become involved in missionary medicine. We aim to bring together these new approaches through the concepts of 'prescribed' and 'lived' religion. Whereas the study of prescribed religion mainly considers propositions and normative reflections by religious experts such as priests, theologians and moralists (top-down), the primary focus of lived religion is on beliefs and practices of all members of the Church, including for instance doctors and missionaries (bottom-up). By combining both approaches and charting the interactions between them, this WOG will shed light on religion as a complex phenomenon, interpreting religious doctrines and the ways in which they are understood as the outcome of negotiations, whether by experts or 'ordinary' congregants. It will do so by focusing on two specific research themes: medical ethics and reproductive medicine.Working group on medical ethicsThis working group will analyze the ways in which, since the late 19th century, theologians, moralists, physicians, missionaries and other actors involved in Catholic health care institutions and centers of training negotiated their own moral understandings of medical care and treatment. How did doctors and clergymen interact in establishing a Catholic position on matters such as the social role of the Catholic physician, medical abortion, post-mortem caesareans, the physical integrity of the corpse, forms of contraception such as the rhythm method, sterilization, the rise of psychoanalysis, experimentation on human subjects orthe use of human embryonic stem cells for research and therapeutics? How did Catholic moralists and physicians deal with clashes between pontifical rules and the law (e.g. when abortion and euthanasia were legalized)?Working group on reproductive medicineWhen it comes to reproduction and family planning, the Catholic Church is commonly casted as 'a center of opposition to all the great movements aiming towards greater freedom for ordinary human beings'. The Church's emphasis on the inseparability of sex and reproduction, most famously described in Humanae Vitae, has been put forward as one of the main reasons for secularization since the 1960s. Discussed from a top-down perspective, religion was largely reduced to prescriptions and proscriptions limiting the agency of faithful physicians and patients. In this working group we aim to correct this stereotypical view through a bottom-up approach, in which the primary focus is on the ways in which individuals (both patients and physicians) dealt with medical interpretations of, and interventions in, reproduction in a broad sense. Special attention will be paid to the post-war period, when debates on reproduction became particularly tense and when differences between Western and Eastern Europe became more explicit.
Date:1 Jan 2019 →  Today
Disciplines:Cultural history
Project type:Collaboration project