Accepted Paper:

Recognizing symptoms as signs from the body: the experience of Estonian spiritual practitioners  
Marko Uibu (University of Tartu)

Paper short abstract:

Based on the fieldwork among Estonian spiritual practitioners, I observe how spiritual teachings about health cultivate certain ways to recognize and interpret symptoms. Different sensations are often understood as bodily messages with an aim to establish a ‘dialogue’ with the body and/or the organs.

Paper long abstract:

The teachings of new spirituality have gained importance as the source of knowledge about health for many Estonians. The spiritual holistic approach to health tends to give wider meanings to bodily sensations that biomedicine classifies as symptoms of pathologies. By emphasizing social and moral dimensions, popular spiritual ideas take symptoms as bodily signs that demonstrate the necessity to improve relationships, thinking, moral behavior etc. For example, according to wide-spread belief promoted by several teachers (including famous Estonian Luule Viilma) morally wrong deeds and thoughts affect certain organs and cause certain symptoms and diseases.

In the individual quest towards this-worldly happiness, healthy body is seen as a goal but also a partner and a source of knowledge. People aim to establish a 'dialogue' with the body and/or the organs; to learn to understand different sensations as messages. Personal experience is seen as the source of truthful information: it is often emphasized that you should not trust anybody else but your own experience and bodily signs. The presence of different sources of knowledge is seen as a complicated problem among Estonian physicians who often just prefer to ignore alternative interpretations.

In the presentation I will observe the search for knowledge about the bodily sensations: how the symptom is recognized; what kinds of sources (e.g. professional, 'lay-medical', alternative) are used. My ethnographic material includes both discussions in Estonian spiritual/holistic health seminars and internet-based conversations that demonstrate the process of conceptualizing symptoms or illnesses and finding the best course of action.

Panel P108
From bodily sensation to symptoms: consequences for healthcare seeking?