"The Claims of Religion Upon Medical Men": Protestant Christianity and Medicine in Nineteenth-Century America
Date of Graduation
Doctor of Philosophy in History (PhD)
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
This is the first study to examine how pastors lost authority over bodily healing in the nineteenth century. I argue that clergymen adapted to the scientific and cultural developments of the post-Darwin era by encouraging a separation of bodily healing and spiritual healing that was unprecedented in Christianity. In 1840, ministers wielded much more authority than physicians, who still practiced a heroic medicine whose foundations predated Christ. Ministers insisted that doctors' value lay in their willingness to be proselytizing Christians. The doctor who wanted to reach the upper echelon of his profession had to save the souls of the wayward and dying whom the Protestant minister could not reach. Technical skill meant little. By the end of the century, germ theory and the rise of the field of public health meant that the physician could save lives as never before. Conversely, the Protestant clergyman's moral authority decayed as Darwin -and the myriad geologists and biblical historians who attacked notions of an inerrant Biblical account - made atheism viable for the first time in Western history. As medicine surpassed the ministry - and every other profession - to take the lead in the late 1800s, clergymen adopted a new tack. Eager to establish themselves as specialists in spiritual healing - in an age when specialization dominated the professions - clergymen stopped demanding that physicians save both bodies and souls. The clergyman's new ideal doctor was one who stayed abreast of scientific developments and served as a "mediator of science" - spreading the healing gospel of public health to the unwashed masses.
Gordon, R. J. (2014). "The Claims of Religion Upon Medical Men": Protestant Christianity and Medicine in Nineteenth-Century America. Graduate Theses and Dissertations Retrieved from https://scholarworks.uark.edu/etd/2268
History of Religion Commons, History of Science, Technology, and Medicine Commons, Medicine and Health Sciences Commons