Prescribing Faith: Medicine, Media, and Religion in American Culture/In a New Light: Spirituality and the Media Arts

By Tebbe-Grossman, Jennifer | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), September 2008 | Go to article overview
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Prescribing Faith: Medicine, Media, and Religion in American Culture/In a New Light: Spirituality and the Media Arts


Tebbe-Grossman, Jennifer, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Prescribing Faith: Medicine, Media, and Religion in American Culture Claire Hoertz Badaracco. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007.

In a New Light: Spirituality and the Media Arts Ron Austin. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.

The popular press frequently deals with faith, spirituality, or a mind-body connection in looking at issues of health and wellness and health and disease. Claire Hoertz Badaracco's Prescribing Faith: Medicine, Media, and Religion in American Culture looks at "the mediated public debate about science and religion." She seeks to "understand better the public conversation about medicine and religion, within its historical frame, and clarify the tension between current medical practices and the trend toward alternative and complementary medicine, within which flourish the ideas about the healing power of faith" (6). The book asks readers to think about such controversial subjects as marketing health care as a commodity, "disease condition advertising" by "Big Pharma," and the creation of anxiety about "illness, aging, and death" with a corresponding need for "faith-based products" to alleviate this anxiety in what she refers to as the "medicated public square" (3, 4, 155).

Badaracco first looks at how a patient is to behave in the face of suffering. She provides a case study by looking at two nineteenthcentury Transcendentalists, Sophia Peabody, the painter and illustrator who married Nathaniel Hawthorne, and her doctor, Walter Channing, a founder of Harvard Medical School. As a practitioner of "heroic medicine" Channing prescribed mercury and arsenic for Peabody's headaches and other afflictions. She took his medicines and she accepted advice from him on how to control her emotions. In addition, she sought refuge in religion from her suffering from the headaches and the medicines' adverse affects. Badaracco sees Peabody developing a "theology of suffering, accepting her dosage as part of God's will for her" (38). She finally recovered from her long illness when Channing further prescribed a trip to the warmer climate of Cuba where she quit taking the mercury and arsenic and kept a travel journal. Badaracco contrasts Channing's "heroic" approach to health and disease with other alternatives that were available to the American public in the early nineteenth century from quackery to homeopathy.

Chapter two examines the life of Mary Baker Eddy and her "lifework of establishing a religion built on the ideas of biblically based healing through prayerful connection with the Divine Mind, without drugs of any kind" (60). Badaracco believes that Eddy's Christian Science "intersects with American literary history, in New England Transcendentalism" and she argues that Eddy "articulated many of the ideas current in twenty-first century mind-body and complementary and alternative medicine" (87, 89). Eddy's Christian Science is portrayed as very much in opposition to the "heroic" medicine of Channing and his colleagues. Badaracco especially focuses on the importance of how Eddy built a newspaper business (The Christian Science Journal) and how she earned a living by pursuing readers directly without the aid of booksellers and agents with the publication of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Badaracco is especially fascinated with how Eddy was able to make her religious book a "required product" for many American consumers (9). For popular culture scholars, Badaracco also notes that Christian Science prospered in the twentieth century with Hollywood celebrities where the First Church of Christ Scientist in Pasadena attracted movies stars from Joan Crawford to Henry Fonda.

The book's third chapter is more concerned with how researchers have looked at the role of prayer and faith in healing. Her major focus is on how "integrated" medicine has gained presence in major medical institutions in their medical school curriculum and in the actual treatment of patients.

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