Conference Agenda

1B: Medical Care and Catholicism in France (1930s-1960s)
Wednesday, 08/Sept/2021:
9:00am - 10:15am

Session Chair: Dr. Florent Serina, University of Strasbourg


Medical care and Catholicism in France (1930s-1960s).

Chair(s): Serina, Florent (University of Strasbourg – SAGE CNRS 7363 / Institut des Humanités en Médecine – CHUV Lausanne)

This panel aims to shed new light on the various interrelationships between health care practices and the Catholic faith in France, over a period extending from the inter-war years to the 1960s. Our objective is to study the beliefs, ideas and the practices of different personalities—physicians, psychiatrists, and members of the clergy—, by questioning their ways of associating health care and religious dogma, in contexts marked by multiple tensions and fault lines (sacred-profane, professional-amateur, orthodoxy-heterodoxy). To do so, our papers will draw on a wide range of unpublished archives, including personal papers, networks of correspondence, as well as medical records.


Presentations of the Symposium


The rise of a new popular practice. Dowsing priests in 1930s France.

Guillemain, Hervé
University of Le Mans – TEMOS CNRS 9016

In the 1930s medical dowsing appears in media. It inherits the tradition of ancient dowsers but is built as a new discipline of care which will become very popular in France after Second World War. Catholic priests, such as Abbé Bouly (in the North of France), are at the origin of this practice connected to new discoveries like radio waves. How historians could study that kind of medical practice carried by amateurs and remaining on the fringes of the academic field? The aim of this paper is to answer this historical question. To do so, it will rely on the personal archives of the Abbé Bouly, founder of medical dowsing, and on the study of the bulletin of the French Dowsers' Association created in the 1930s. After having evoked the scientific context which influences this emergence, I will describe the rudiments of the practice and the objects it produces, then I will analyse the setting up of a new national network which supports it before concluding on the historiographical scope of such an example for the history of health and for the history of Catholicism.


Catholic physicians in France during the interwar period: allies or enemies for spreading of esoteric influences within the medical culture?

Bernard, Léo
Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Université PSL, LEM, UMR 8485

This paper aims to extend some reflections that the author’s doctoral thesis has helped to bring to light. Focused on the relations between esoteric currents and medical holism during the interwar period, the thesis notably highlighted the fact that the porosity of borders between scholarly rationality and religious rationality tends to favour the porosity of borders between medical orthodoxy and medical heterodoxies. More precisely, catholic physicians helped alternative medicines such as homeopathy to be better considered within academic medical circles. As shown-up in the thesis, these alternative medicines were deeply influenced by esoteric currents, but such influence was not uncontroversial, particularly among homeopathic physicians. On one hand, catholic physicians led the criticism against so-called occult influences, while, on the other hand, they also allowed practices such as chirology, closely tied-up with esoteric currents, to be quite widely disseminated within medical circles at that time. To illustrate this paradox, this paper will focus on different medical personalities which exemplify the variety of such ambiguities: the cases of Drs Maurice Fortier-Bernoville (1896-1939), Pierre Delore (1896-1960) and Paul Carton (1875-1947) will each give us a different insight on the complex relations between Catholicism, esotericism, and medicine.


Treating the psychic disorders of the clergy. Théophile Kammerer, a Catholic psychiatrist at work (1940s-1960s).

Serina, Florent
University of Strasbourg – SAGE CNRS 7363 / Institut des Humanités en Médecine – CHUV Lausanne

In 1953, Théophile Kammerer (1916-2005) became head of the University Psychiatric Clinic of Strasbourg, a central institution for the care of patients in Northeastern France. This neuropsychiatrist trained in psychoanalysis, whose personality has marked Alsatian memories, was particularly attached to his Catholic faith throughout his life. It is on this little-known, if not ignored, aspect of this major figure in French provincial psychiatry that I will focus, with a particular interest in the way his religious convictions influenced his medical practice. To this end, I will first present an unpublished study by Kammerer, transmitted by letter to the physician, psychoanalyst and Catholic priest Marc Oraison, entitled “Reflections on the psychic disorders observed in the clergy” (1956), in which he draws up an assessment of his clinical practice (private and public) on members of the Church and formulates a series of recommendations with a view to improving the recruitment of candidates for the seminary or novitiate. Secondly, I will look at how Kammerer was personally involved in the treatment of religious men or women (sisters, priests, abbots), admitted to the Strasbourg Clinic, through a systematic study of medical records over a period covering the first ten years of his tenure (1953-1962).