Accepted Paper:

To heal the sick is to heal oneself: the body as congregation  


Isabelle Lange (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)

Paper short abstract:

This paper looks at the ill body as a call for the expression of faith, in the form of congregations that gather out of interpersonal and spiritual networks to take care of the sick individual and thereby take care of the congregation as a whole.

Paper long abstract:

"Your job is to persevere, and our job is to keep praying for you, to keep the faith." Serge was speaking to a gathering of friends at the 32nd birthday of Alexandre, a young man with a cancer that had been consuming his face half his life despite numerous surgeries to remove the tumour.

Based on fieldwork in Benin surrounding patients of a Christian hospital ship, I explore the interpersonal and spiritual networks that have formed as a base beyond the surgical and evangelical interventions of the ship that, with its arrival, joined a sort of congregation around Alexandre and his illness. The body's expression of grave illness is a physical manifestation of the (negative) energies affecting the sick individual and a complex centre of contestation surrounding the source of affliction and the recourses to heal in this landscape where many hold to Christian beliefs to counter the feared capacities of other local religions. The ill body becomes the principle for social cohesion. It is a call to arms for those who choose to answer, beyond family and friends and the church, to a selective greater community that unites in order to assist an individual who is suffering. By looking at the religious responses enacted through individuals - long weekly prayer circles, collection of money for surgeries, and public testimonies praising God's healing abilities - a patchwork is woven wherein it is not just the ill body that is taken care of, but the body of the congregation and its belief.

Panel W011
Body and soul: on corporeality in contemporary religiosity