Accepted paper:

Touch-based healing and the embodiment and convergence of spiritual concepts from western and eastern traditions, as accepted practices that resist normative beliefs from state-sponsored healthcare


Tass Holmes (University of Melbourne)

Paper short abstract:

Widely accepted practices of touch-based healing provide a site for the embodiment and convergence of spiritual concepts emerging from both western and eastern traditions. Such practices serve to resist normative beliefs aligned with state-sponsored health, and suggest the tenacity of holistic care.

Paper long abstract:

In Australia, state-sponsorship of conventional biomedicine renders this form of treatment highly accessible to the general public, including persons of low-income status. Health beliefs and healthcare practice expectations espoused by biomedicine are secular and materialistic in nature and theoretical premises. As a result, aspects of socio-cultural context, or spirituality and identity, are rarely incorporated into health explanations. Biomedicine is thus able to refute the validity of truly holistic approaches to the provision of healthcare. ‘Alternative’ healing practices therefore remain excluded from mainstream health systems and access to supportive public funding.

While research among rural residents occasionally reveals practices that may be viewed as folksy or unusual when compared to those prevalent in urban locations, recent anthropological fieldwork in rural Victoria, in a community with a substantial presence of interfaith spiritual organisations, discovered commonalities, in the form of unconventional healthcare practices that are also often used in urban places. Among numerous alternative healing practices studied, several widely accepted (and some less recognised) methods of touch-based healing were described, which provide a site for the embodiment and convergence of spiritual concepts arising from both western and eastern traditions. Such healing practices serve to resist many of the normative beliefs that are aligned with state-sponsored healthcare. They thereby suggest the tenacity of holistic modes of health provision, and the ongoing importance for spiritual identity of holistic healing, in contemporary Australian communities.

panel P38
Embodied rituals, symbols and performances: embodiment as a negotiation of the state, and state negotiations of embodiment