1st Edition

Disability, Medicine, and Healing Discourse in Early Christianity New Conversations for Health Humanities

    Using contemporary theories drawn from health humanities, this volume analyses the nature and effects of disability, medicine, and health discourse in a variety of early Christian literature.

    In recent years, the "medical turn" in early Christian studies has developed a robust literature around health, disability, and medicine, and the health humanities have made critical interventions in modern conversations around the aims of health and the nature of healthcare. Considering these developments, it has become clear that early Christian texts and ideas have much to offer modern conversations, and that these texts are illuminated using theoretical lenses drawn from modern medicine and public health. The chapters in this book explore different facets of early Christian engagement with medicine, either in itself or as metaphor and material for theological reflections on human impairment, restoration, and flourishing. Through its focus on late antique religious texts, the book raises questions around the social, rather than biological, aspects of illness and diminishment as a human experience, as well as the strategies by which that experience is navigated. The result is an innovative and timely intervention in the study of health and healthcare that bridges current divides between historical studies and contemporary issues.

    Taken together, the book offers a prismatic conversation of perspectives on aspects of care at the heart of societal and individual "wellness" today, inviting readers to meet or revisit patristic texts as tracings across a map of embodied identity, dissonance, and corporal care. It is a fascinating resource for anyone working on ancient medicine and health, or the social worlds of early Christianity.

    1. Introduction: Discourses of Health between Late Antiquity and Postmodernity; Part One: Marking Bodies, Making Communities; 2. Christ the Physician and his Deaf Followers: Medical Metaphors in the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch - Anna Rebecca Sølevag; 3. A Circumcising Mission to the Gentiles and Hazing Culture – Adam Booth; 4. Pain in Ancient Medicine and Literature, and Early Christianity: A Paradox of Insharability and Agency – Helen Rhee; Part Two: Defining Patients, Delimiting Communities; 5. To Be, or Not to Be Sterile: that is a Question of Well-being in Byzantine Medical Discourse of the Sixth Century AD - Elisa Groff; 6. The Negotiation of Meaning in Late Antique Clinical Practice: Alexander of Tralles and "Natural Remedies" – Jonathan L. Zecher; 7. Medical Discourse, Identity Formation, and Otherness in Early Eastern Christianity – Chris L. de Wet; Part Three: Performing Health, Preserving Communities; 8. Hagiography and "Mental Health" in Late Antique Monasticism – Paul Dilley; 9. Shaping Water: Public Health and the ‘Medicine of Mortality’ in Late Antiquity – Susan R. Holman; Reflections; 10. Intersecting Christian Antiquity and Modern Health Care - Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen.


    Susan R. Holman is John R. Eckrich Chair and Professor of Religion and the Healing Arts at Valparaiso University. Her publications include eight academic monographs, among them Beholden: Religion, Global Health, and Human Rights (Oxford 2015), recipient of the 2016 Grawemeyer Award in Religion.

    Chris L. de Wet is Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Studies at the University of South Africa, Pretoria. His books include Preaching Bondage: John Chrysostom and the Discourse of Slavery in Early Christianity (2015) and The Unbound God: Slavery and the Formation of Early Christian Thought (2018).

    Jonathan L. Zecher is Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University and Co-Director of ReMeDHe, an international working group for Religion, Medicine, Disability, and Health in Late Antiquity. His second book, Spiritual Direction as a Medical Art in Early Christian Monasticism (Oxford), was published in 2022.