Explorations in the Medical Humanities

Pierce Salguero (Penn State)

Respondent: Michael Como, Columbia University

Chair: Lan Li, Columbia University

The so-called “Mindfulness Revolution” sweeping through mainstream American popular culture has tended to overshadow both the deep historical roots of the connections between Buddhism and health, as well as the diversity of those Buddhist healing methods beyond merely meditation. This talk will place the contemporary focus on the health benefits of mindfulness within the history of Buddhist engagements with medicine. Dr. Salguero will outline the many rich and complex approaches to healing that have been (and still are) used in Buddhist communities worldwide, and will suggest directions for further historical and clinical research beyond mindfulness.

As a set of disciplines, the humanities face the challenge of how to write about embodied experiences that resist easy verbal categorization such as illness, pain, and healing. The recent emergence of interdisciplinary frameworks such as narrative medicine has offered a set of methodological approaches to address these challenges. Yet conceptualizing a field of medical humanities also offers a broader umbrella under which to study the influence of medico-scientific ideas and practices on society.  Whether by incorporating material culture such as medical artifacts, performing symptomatic readings of poems and novels, or excavating the implicit medical assumptions underlying auditory cultures, the approaches that emerge from a historiographical or interpretive framework are different from those coming from the physician’s black bag.

This lecture series will explore the enigma of how what we write relates back to the experience of bodies in different stages of health and disease. Our speakers will explore how the medical humanities build on and revise earlier notions of the “medical arts.” At stake are the problems of representation and the interpretation of cultural products from the past and present through medical models.