Conference Agenda

9C: Religious Actors in Russian and Eastern European Health Care
Friday, 10/Sept/2021:
9:00am - 10:15am

Session Chair: Dr. Tinne Claes, KU Leuven


Women cloisters and medicine amidst State-Church relationship in late Imperial Russia.

Shok, Nataliya1; Beliakova, Nadezhda2,3

1Privolzhsky Research Medical University, Russian Federation (Nizhny Novgorod); 2Institute of World History, Russian Academy of Science (Moscow); 3Sechenov University (Moscow)

Medicine in the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century was a space of modernization in the Russian Empire. Legislative initiatives expanded the social role of medicine in preserving "people's health". As a result of the Great Reforms of the 1860s, the institution of zemstvo medicine emerged. The rapid modernization of medical care was accompanied by wars, which meant a growing number of widows, orphans, and the disabled, needed socio-medical care. The drastic change in the life of the rural population and rapid urbanization destroyed the peasant family and created new risks for women. At the same time, there was an increase in the number of women's religious communities - cloisters and women's convents, some of which initially emerged as almshouses for widows and elderly women. The number of women entering these cloisters was growing rapidly. These cloisters begin to develop socio-medical care for rural populations and vulnerable groups. Over time, these practices evolve into centers of monastic medicine that combine the experience of "primary theology," "lived religion," and state interests. Interactions between medicine and religion in women cloisters - Orthodox nursing networks - emerge in the context of serious social modernization. This enables authors to rethink the traditional understanding of secularization and medicalization processes in the 19th century scrutinizing medical practices of women cloisters within the system of church-state relations. Authors will show, using specific sources, the importance of the social and medical networks in post-reform Russia.

Fighting the Shame. Physicians, Priests, and Venereal Diseases in Romania, 1853-1874

Trausan-Matu, Lidia; Buda, Octavian

‘Carol Davila’ University of Medicine and Pharmacy Bucharest, Romania

This presentation examines the process of collaboration between physicians and priests for the fight against venereal diseases in Romania in the period 1853-1874. This process started with the 1853 Hospital Reform Act. With it, the rulers sought to create a network of county hospitals, with the help of which medical access to rural population was given, through this medicalization.

Despite the best efforts of the physicians, most sufferers did not want to hear about the hospitalization and refused to follow a treatment recommended by the physician. The main reason for the refusal was related to the fact that hospitals in Romania were initially created (in 1842) only for syphilis, a disease that raised great moral problems. This image persisted in the mentality of the citizens until the end of the 19th century. To persuade them to cooperate, the medical authorities turned to the services of the priests. In the Romanian space, the popular faith attributed to the priest the role of mediator to the divine power of healing. The priests were supposed to convince people of the beneficial role of the physicians and of the hospitals. Thus, starting from 1858 to 1874, the so-called “hospital priest” appeared on the list of employees of the county hospitals in Romania. In this study we will describe the services that hospital priests provide to patients and we will highlight the interaction with medical staff.

Poor, Sick, and Mad: Treating the Mentally Ill in the Hungarian Hospitals of the Brothers of Mercy (1740–1830)*

Kovács, Janka

Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary

The presentation addresses the early practices of care for the mentally ill in the Hungarian hospitals of the Brothers of Mercy, highlighting the connections between illness and poverty and the social and medical approaches towards the mentally ill. The Order settled in Hungary in the middle of the 17th century intending to provide care for the poor. They were traditionally inclined towards the mentally ill, and even though in this period we cannot talk about standardized care and a systematic therapeutic regime, the pursuit of registering and isolating the ‘mad’ within hospitals is already detectable.

The documents of hospital administration (patient records, registries, and regulations) enable us to examine the socioeconomic background of patients and also how mental illnesses were named and classified in the hospitals. There are numerous references to the isolation of the ‘mad’ and their division into different subgroups based on their mental states (calm, furious, dangerous) and social background (registered poor, privileged classes), somewhat defying the fundamental principles of the Order.

Using the documents of hospital administration, complemented with narrative sources reflecting on the daily routine of the hospitals (such as medical topographies, city descriptions, and travelogues), the problems of medicalization and the pursuit of specialized care will be addressed. The Order’s work in Hungary gives a unique glimpse into the early ways and strategies of care for the mad in a period, when the medico-political authorities were only beginning to address the question in the Habsburg Monarchy.