Seminars

Below are course descriptions for upper-level seminars of my own design originally for offering at Yale.

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Medicine and Religion in America:

COURSE DESCRIPTION:

The efficacy of abstinence-only education. The limits of abortion rights. The implications of human cloning. The ethics of physician-assisted suicide. The humanity of embryonic stem-cell research. The plight of millions of Americans left uninsured for health care. These issues number among the most culturally resonant and politically charged of our time, and each in its own right represents the expression of a social calculus between medical possibility and religious accountability: a reckoning of body and soul. In a nation whose lore so celebrates free markets, few social institutions in the United States have been so molded by those competitive forces as medicine and religion have. The medical and religious marketplaces, in fact, have been fixtures of the American social landscape since the nation’s beginnings and have left exceptional imprints on its development. Thus, while many today anticipate that the United States may very well stand on the cusp of a ‘biotechnological revolution’ where the cultural intertwining of medicine and religion will gain even greater salience, actually questions of this nature are quite recurrent in the American past.

This course will explore the interplay of medicine and religion in America from the late colonial era to the recent past and in so doing consider such factors as gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, regionalism, and medical and religious sectarianism. Students will analyze the common yet independent expressions in medicine and religion of broad cultural movements (e.g., early nineteenth- century Jacksonian democracy) and also discuss the influences of specific developments in one institution upon the other. In this latter context, students will consider why substantial corners of American religion mobilized at times to embrace medical knowledge, as for example Seventh-day Adventism did nutritional science in the late nineteenth century, and at other times to challenge it, as Scientology did psychiatry in the mid-twentieth century. Likewise, similar patterns are evident in American medicine’s engagement with religious beliefs. In the mid-nineteenth century American physicians met religious resistance in their efforts to gain greater access to corpses for anatomical study, which was then an emerging hallmark of their professional identity, but a century later in the aftermath of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study scandal the national commission created to outline basic ethical guidelines for the treatment of human research subjects formally included Christian ethicists. In short, this course will seek to maintain a balance of medical and religious perspectives throughout the topics it pursues.

The course progresses chronologically through the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. The opening weeks will ground students in professional and popular ideas of medical theory and therapeutics in the periods of the late colonial era and early republic, and one of the guiding questions of discussion will be how disparate groups of Americans rationalized the workings of the human body in a time before the construction of scientific knowledge within the clinic and laboratory. In contemplating the corporeal and spiritual dimensions of this question, students will explore the significances of gender, race, and place because Americans saw states of wellness and illness as resulting not only from providence but also from individual constitutions interacting with local geographical environments. Therefore, they pondered the implications of being European and African men and women transplanted to diverse American climates with native populations. By midterm, the course will arrive at the second half of the nineteenth century, a time when clinical practice and laboratory science transformed American medicine and when immigration changed the face of American religion. Here, students will analyze how these two trends met at the turn of the century in the reformation of American hospitals and the development of the nation’s cities.

Moving into the twentieth century, the course will examine the role of American medicine and religion as the nation increasingly embraced imperial ambitions and entered the Great War. In this latter context students will explore the importance of religious belief in medical humanitarianism and of conscientious objection in military medicine. Moving forward, students will consider the changing ways in which American religious communities engaged emergent medical knowledge and procedures like the medicalization of addiction, organ transplantation, and psychopharmacology. In their exploration of the historical and cultural processes of medicalization, students will focus on a case study of the medicalization and subsequent de-medicalization of same-sex desire in the twentieth century and how American religious communities responded to both. The course will conclude with a discussion of the medical and religious dimensions of the beginnings and endings of life. Among the issues considered will be euthanasia, artificial insemination, eugenics, induced abortion, stem-cell research, and human cloning.

Students should expect to take from this course a thorough knowledge of the major themes and events influencing the development of medicine and religion in America since the eighteenth century. Within medicine, students will have a firm command of changes over time in fields of physiology, therapeutics, and pathology. Similarly, within religion, students will understand the significances and varieties of eschatology, periods of awakening, and the workings of sectarian emergence and denominational evolution.

This course is an intensive reading seminar, and as such students will review a significant secondary literature. From this, they will be exposed to the styles and methods of evidentiary debate that are the essentials of the study of American culture and history. Course readings purposely include conflicting historiographical accounts of events and periods in order to allow students to explore the differing ways in which scholars approach their disciplines and crafts. The readings also include a diversity of materials: primary source documents, books reviews, journal research articles, and secondary source monographs and edited editions. This course is designed to provide students an opportunity to hone their research skills and writing style and mechanics under careful supervision of the instructor.

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Landscapes of American Medicine: The Long Nineteenth Century

COURSE DESCRIPTION:

The nineteenth century saw American medicine transformed from a balkanized discipline whose disparate sects were unified only in a mutual reliance on humoralistic theories of disease (which themselves were little changed since classical antiquity) into a far more confident profession that increasingly defined itself by scientific knowledge produced in clinics, laboratories, and epidemiological fields. This course examines these and other developments across a ‘long nineteenth century’ by emphasizing themes of place and space in delineating the many landscapes of American medicine. While the content of this course centers on the history of medicine in the United States, students’ written assignments will explore comparable trends in the development of medicine and the health professions in Singapore and will incorporate relevant primary and secondary source materials accordingly.

The course opens with consideration of several internal landscapes of American medicine during the periods of the late colonial era and the early republic around the turn of the nineteenth century; these include: the perceived effects of New World climates on the humoral constitutions of European and African bodies; the therapeutic traditions inspired by American flora; and the professional and commercial networks that emerged to serve the medical marketplace of the young nation. Among the guiding questions of these opening sessions will be: Was there ever such a thing as a uniquely ‘American’ medicine (Was there in the minds of historical actors)? Is there one today? How might one speak of ‘American exceptionalism’ in the context of the nation’s medical culture, both then and now? How might developments in medical theory, therapeutics, education, and the medical marketplace in the last two hundred years have changed how one defines this exceptionalism?

The course next considers the influences of external landscapes on American medical culture in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, from the age of expansion to the Gilded Age; these are: the role of the Paris clinic in the training and professional identity of American physicians; the development of English sanitation ideas and practices and their application to burgeoning American urban environments; and the organization of German laboratories during the Second Industrial Revolution and their transition into the United States through higher education and industry. Questions pursued in the middle third of the course will include: How did the emergence of specific sciences and the idea (and even veneration) of scientific knowledge more generally work to shape medical training and professional culture in the United States? How true is it to speak of national cultures of medical science in the nineteenth century, or conversely, how international was science in the nineteenth century?

The final third of the course will analyze the development of the social landscapes of medical institutions and medical conventions in settings ranging from slave plantations, the asylum, the hospital, the medical school, and an expanding overseas American empire. It is here that students will engage most explicitly and will consider most closely questions and methods of race, sexual identity, gender, religion, ethnicity and nationality, and social class. This portion of the course will examine how the emergence and evolution of medical relationships served at times to identify, control, and strengthen differing communities of people. Specifically, students will analyze the organizing spatial components (the social landscapes) of these relationships; for instance: the practice of medicine on slave plantations and the medical traditions of enslaved peoples; the missions of Catholic and Jewish hospitals and their importance to the immigrant communities and physicians they served; the organization of medical schools by blacks and women; the establishment of asylums to define, govern, and treat illnesses of the mind; and the social evolution of communities centered on ideas of sexuality in the aftermath of the medicalization of same-sex desire.

Through this organizing framework of ‘landscapes,’ students will take from this course thorough understanding of major issues and events influencing the development of medicine in the United States from the Colonial Era to the First World War. They will have a firm command of changes over time in scientific fields of morbid anatomy, physiology, therapeutics, pathology, disease etiology and epidemiology, and public health. This course is a freshman seminar, and as such students will review the styles and methods of evidentiary debate that are essential to the study of American history and culture. The diverse selection of course readings serves to allow students to explore the differing ways in which scholars approach their disciplines and crafts. These readings include: primary-source documents, book reviews, research articles, secondary source monographs, and edited editions. This course is designed to provide students opportunities to hone their research skills and their writing styles and mechanics under careful supervision of the instructor.