Bodies, Diseases, and the Preservation of Health as Foci of Inter-Religious Encounters in the Middle Ages

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What is the place of medicine in the long history of inter-religious encounters,
particularly in situations of harsh political and religious conflicts? The working
hypothesis of this paper is that something in the state of disease creates a setting that allows, even encourages both suffering patients and providers of health to interact with the enemy in a way that leads to the disintegration of ethnic and religious boundaries. The discussion is based on medieval examples, mostly taken from the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, where religious groups clashed violently over an extended period of time. It touches on four moments of interreligious encounters in which medicine or physicians played an important
role: 1. The encounter of Christian warriors with Saracen corpses at the battle
field and what this can teach us about twelfth-century western attitudes to the
Muslim body. 2. Inter-religious encounters in clinical setting. Without denying the powerful force of religious ideology and rhetoric in affecting medical practice, it seems that the natural healing bond attaching the ailing patient to the best available provider of cure, irrespective of his ethnic or religious origins, often turned disease into a moment at which religious boundaries and prohibitions bowed to necessity and even disintegrated. 3. Inter-religious encounters in hospitals and shrines. Fragmentary evidence suggests that hospitals catered for non-Christian patients as well, and employed non-Christian staff, while at the same time some non-Christians could be attracted to test the curing powers of Christian shrines. 4. Minority physicians were often vehicles of inter-religious/inter-ethnic collaboration, transmitters of general knowledge, and agents of cultural exchange. The medical profession seems to have played a unique role in processes of integration, acculturation, assimilation and even conversion.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMédecine et religion
Subtitle of host publicationcompétitions, collaborations, conflits (XIIe - XXe siècles)
EditorsLuc Berlivet, Sara Cabibbo, Maria Pia Donato, Raimondo Michetti, Marilyn Nicoud
Place of PublicationRome
PublisherÉcole française de Rome
ISBN (Print)978-2-7283-0967-2
StatePublished - 2013


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