Mixed Methodology Approaches to Exploring Spiritual Transformation

By Mehl-Madrona, Lewis; Mainguy, Barbara et al. | The Qualitative Report, January 21, 2013 | Go to article overview

Mixed Methodology Approaches to Exploring Spiritual Transformation


Mehl-Madrona, Lewis, Mainguy, Barbara, Valenti, Michael Pickren, The Qualitative Report


"Long before science-based health care professions, people were served by culturally defined healers. The functions of healing were often blended with those of spiritual leadership within the community" (Miller & Thoresen, 1999, p. 3). Culturally defined healers continue to operate in most world communities, including North America, blending to various degrees (depending upon healer and community) traditional healing practices with the dominant religion of the region. Varying by region, healers practice more or less openly and more or less in conjunction with science-based health professionals. Non-indigenous people are seeking traditional healers more often, especially for conditions with dire prognoses such as cancer, and usually after science-based medicine has failed (Mehl-Madrona, 1999; Miller, 2006). Engels (1977) helped to explain this phenomenon in his writings about the implicit assumptions of science-based medicine, which may actually not apply to chronic illness (Constantine & Sue, 2006, Mehl-Madrona, 2005; Miller, 2006; Thoresen, 1998).

Studies of Spiritual Healing

The question of religious or spiritual healing and how extensively it occurs and the degree to which it affects physiology is important. Csordas (1983) conceived religious healing as a form of discourse embodying a cultural rhetoric capable of performing three essential persuasive tasks: to create a predisposition to be healed, to create the experience of spiritual empowerment, and to create the concrete perception of personal transformation. This threefold process activates and controls healing processes endogenous to the supplicant in healing, and either redirects the supplicant's attention toward new aspects of his actions and experiences, or alters the manner in which he attends to accustomed aspects of those actions and experiences. The result is the creation of both a new phenomenological world, and new self-meaning for the supplicant as a whole and holy person. Though Csordas was studying Pentacostal Catholics, the analysis is equally applicable to indigenous healing and directs our attention to those aspects of the treatment situation and the interaction with the healer that foster these three persuasive tasks.

Studies of Spiritual Transformation

Spiritual transformation as a formal area for study, has been defined as having a primary component, relating to a fundamental change in the place of the sacred or the character of the sacred as an object of significance in the life of an individual, and a secondary component referring to a fundamental change in the pathways that a person takes to the sacred (Pargament, 2006). Religion permits a reorganization of the values that accompany spiritual transformation (Coe, 1916). Recent research suggests that the specific ways in which people rediscover meaning in times of crisis may be less important than the process itself. The ability to re-ascribe meaning to a changed world through spiritual transformation, religious conversion, or existential change may be more significant than the specific content by which that need is filled (Marrone, 1999). Spiritual change and spiritual transformation could be important in improving physical illness.

Aboriginal Studies

This study was conducted in Canada, so we have chosen to use the preferred term, "Aboriginal" which in Canada includes First Nations, Inuit or Metis people. Of the studies reviewed on spirituality, religion, and health outcomes; only a handful relate to Aboriginal or indigenous cultures in other countries, and not of Canada's First Nations, Inuit or Metis. Aboriginal religions are oral, maintained within communities, and almost never seek converts. Some of this lack of research may relate to the emphasis of Aboriginal spirituality and healing upon whole systems and an unwillingness of traditional healers to participate in reductive tests of single elements of their healing traditions, related to strong beliefs in the need for cultural purity of practice and the desire to produce maximal benefit for those people they help. …

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