7B: Missionary and Colonial Medical Practices
Therapeutic pluralism and the history of colonial psychiatry in British mandate Palestine
University of East Anglia, United Kingdom
Across the British mandate period (1920s-1940s), government as well as private mental hospitals proliferated across Palestine, and ever increasing numbers of Palestinians – Muslim, Christian, and Jewish – sought admission for relatives they deemed mentally ill. At the time as well as often since, the arrival of British colonialism is taken as marking a sharp rupture, as responsibility for the treatment of the mentally ill shifted out of the hands of men of religion and into the hands of men of science. This narrative not only ignores a longer history of medicalisation under the late Ottoman empire, but – as this paper argues – the coexistence of medical and religious modes of treatment well into the interwar period in Palestine. Drawing on both archival sources and the ethnographic writings of Palestinian and European folklorists, this paper argues that rather than seeing religious and medical modes of treatment as competing and mutually exclusive, many Palestinians across this period shopped around, turning to one when the other failed. This was an eminently rational strategy on their part, given that the inadequate bedstrength of government mental hospitals and the cost of admission to private institutions rendered them off-limits to many in this period.
Missionary health care as an example of the entanglement between medicine and spirituality in German New Guinea (1884-1919)*
University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany
The German colonial period in Papua New Guinea (1884-1919) is very suitable for reflecting on entanglements between medicine and religion.
In 1886, the first Lutheran missionaries (Neuendettelsau Missionary Society) arrived at Finschhafen in Kaiser-Wilhelmsland (today Morobe Province). Missionary societies played an important role in colonial health care as they were often responsible for establishing medical infrastructure among indigenous communities. But even though being part of a Western medical system, missionaries did not act as secularised healers. Instead they often used medical care for missionary purposes: the use of Western medication and medical treatment was instrumentalised for proselytisation.
In indigenous cultures as well as in missionary perception, medical topics such as illness and healing were closely connected to a spiritual context – a fact that enabled religious dialogue and spiritual exchange between missionaries and local communities. This paper analyses the medical work carried out by missionaries amongst indigenous people. I question the interconnectedness between the use of Western medication and spirituality in the frame of missionary medical work. Certain diseases could not be treated by potent medication therefore the only treatment remaining was praying. To what extent can we even find similarities between the missionary approach to healing and traditional belief?
Based on literature review and source research in the frame of my doctoral thesis in medical history, my contribution to the conference refers to the medical work implemented by the Neuendettelsau Missionary Society and its spiritual implications on indigenous communities in the space of time from 1886 to 1919.