Conference Agenda

3B: Health Movements in the Twenty-First Century
Wednesday, 08/Sept/2021:
1:30pm - 2:45pm

Session Chair: Dr. Ian Miller, Ulster University


Medicalised mindfulness and the healing potential of spiritual practices

Morris, Stephen Gene

University of Kent, United Kingdom

In 2015 the UK’s Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group (MAPPG) formalised the promotion of mindfulness as a tool of national wellbeing. However, scientific reviews indicate that uncertain theoretical frameworks limit the clinical development of medicalised mindfulness. When seen from a history of science perspective, the migration of meditation to psychology has taken place in several waves since 1970. In common with mindfulness, Transcendental Meditation (TM) and the Relaxation Response (RR) showed initial clinical promise before having their utility challenged by critical scientific reviews. This repeated pattern indicates the presence of a process in attempts to medicalise meditation. A persistent confounding factor in these relocations is the ‘translation’ of spiritual practices into concepts accessible to science and scientists. For the first time, this paper will demonstrate how the translation process inevitably changes the curative potential and, in the case of mindfulness, has also led to ontological conflict. The contemporary role of mindfulness reflects the intrinsic links between belief and religion with health and healing. However, to overcome the current crisis in mindfulness research, psychology will need to develop theoretical approaches that understand rather than translate the world views of spiritual practices.

Religious Conversion Narratives in Twenty-First Century British Clean Eating*

Morgan, Louise

University of Warwick, United Kingdom

The twenty-first century saw the development of a new approach to healthy diets – clean eating. This style of eating, at its most basic, was a commitment to eating mostly whole foods in as close to their natural state as possible, removing any food which was believed to be ‘processed’. This was often intertwined with a broader emphasis on mental wellbeing or ‘thinking clean’, alleviating chronic symptoms, and using natural cosmetic products, allowing clean eaters to market this way of eating as a lifestyle, not a fad diet. In promoting a clean life through social media profiles, blogs, and bestselling cookbooks, British clean eaters such as Ella Mills (Deliciously Ella) came to be seen to be promoting a new moral code for modern life. This paper will examine how this code was explained through a narrative which often explicitly echoed the language and style of religious conversion, and hinted at the possibility of an Eden-like utopia. This narrative followed the clean eater as they encountered difficulties in their life, discovered a philosophy around food which helped cure these problems, and led them to spread the word of this new belief system to their followers on social media. Furthermore, it will examine the intense media scrutiny the clean eaters faced which explicitly targeted their use of the language of cleanliness. This backlash focused on the promotion of an apparently impossible standard of morality regarding food and nutrition in a contemporary Britain which was facing rising food poverty and food bank usage.

„Countless beings have contributed their precious life energies to supply this food that we are about to eat. Let us remember them, with gratitude. Let us eat with reverence for all life.“ - The adaption of religious practices into the US-American Wellness movement

Hauss, Philipp

University Vienna/Leuphana University, Austria

Can Wellness be read as an extension of the rationalization of professional life to the private and physical? Or is it merely a technologically upgraded public health program supposed to guide a society increasingly sick with stress, wear and tear, and physical degeneration back to being productive healthy workers? Or is it another redemptive fantasy from the 1960s and 1970s California era, which was not exactly short of salvation teachings? Where does the Wellness movement stand on religion?

In my presentation I would like to introduce the trope of metaphysical gutting as an answer. This describes an ambivalent diagnosis. On the one hand Wellness concepts can be understood in terms of Max Weber’s classical secularization narrative, building on a reason-led gradual rationalization of everyday life and disappearance of religious elements. On the other hand the new prominence of religious or spiritual practices contradicts such a narrative. So, to turn around Max Weber's notion of the "inner kinship" (“innere Verwandschaft”) of Protestantism and capitalism, I argue that in the case of wellness an "outer kinship" can be observed, the practices are kept alive, while the inner meaning changes. This corresponds to an ethical framework that no longer functions in the religious categories of "good" and "evil", but succumbs to a seemingly universal ideal of a homoeostatic balance, which oscillates between "too much" and "too little." In this, the wellness movement has been influential and taken hold in contemporary lifestyles.