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Steve Hinnefeld
University Communications

Last modified: Tuesday, April 7, 2009

IU religious studies professor awarded $150,000 grant to study divine healing

April 7, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Candy Gunther Brown, an associate professor in the Indiana University Bloomington Department of Religious Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, has been awarded a $150,000 grant to pursue research on divine healing practices and their involvement in globalization.

Candy Gunther Brown

Candy Gunther Brown

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The grant comes from the Flame of Love Project, funded by the John Templeton Foundation. It complements a $50,000 New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities grant awarded to Brown this year by the IU Office of the Vice Provost for Research and funded by the Lilly Endowment, and a $14,500 Outstanding Junior Faculty Award conferred last year by IU's Office of the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, Dean of the Faculties and Office of the Vice Provost for Research.

Brown is an historian and ethnographer of religion and culture who is studying divine healing practices in the United States and their global connections. She is the author of The Word in the World: Evangelical Writing, Publishing, and Reading in America, 1789-1880, published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2004. Her grant-funded research includes four book projects:

  • Miracle Cures? Divine Healing and Deliverance in America, which traces a cultural history of divine healing practices in the United States from the 1860s to the present and examines modern-day interactions with healing practices in other countries.
  • Therapeutic Pluralism: America's Pursuit of Healing for Body, Mind, and Spirit, which looks at how Americans experiment with therapies without regard for religious or medical consistency.
  • Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing, in which an international, multidisciplinary team of scholars examines divine healing practices on every continent. Brown is the editor of the book, scheduled for publication in 2010 by Oxford University Press.
  • Global Awakenings: Transnational Divine Healing Movements in North America, Brazil, and Mozambique, co-authored by Brown and Michael McClymond, who holds the Clarence Louis and Helen Irene Steber Endowed Chair in Theological Studies at Saint Louis University.

Brown said the research helps provide a broader understanding of pentecostal Christianity, which is the fastest-growing segment of Christianity in the U.S. and much of the world. She noted that according to some surveys, 70 to 80 percent of U.S. respondents believe God heals people in answer to prayer and that in many Latin American, Asian and African countries where Pentecostal growth is occurring most rapidly, as many as 80 percent of first-generation Christians attribute their conversions primarily to having received divine healing for themselves or a family member.

According to Brown, the topics of pentecostalism, healing and globalization are "logically, not incidentally related." She says that pentecostalism is "more than a religious movement that happens to emphasize healing and that happens to have spread to a number of countries. Globalization characteristically heightens both the actual threat and irrational fears of disease, thereby spurring the growth of religions like pentecostalism that are centrally concerned with healing." And religious globalization works in multiple directions: healing practices and ideas from other countries are picked up by North American pentecostal mission groups and catch on in U.S. churches.

Brown's research focuses on two divine-healing groups: Global Awakening, based in Mechanicsburg, Pa.; and the International Association of Healing Rooms, based in Spokane, Wash., with more than 900 affiliates worldwide. Global Awakening, in addition to being influential with U.S. pentecostal churches, is active in 40 countries, especially Brazil and Mozambique.

Brown has traveled to Brazil twice and will visit Mozambique this summer to carry out the research, which includes using social and natural science methods of observation, interviews, surveys, and clinical studies to collect data. She also plans to address the question of whether healing practices "work," although she emphasizes the complexity of this frequently asked question, given differing ideas of what constitutes healing.

"'Miracle' is not a word that makes sense within the paradigm of scientific naturalism," she said. "The term 'healing' likewise can mean different things, and the same with 'science.' All these terms take on a life of their own. The question is how people interpret their experiences of illness and healing."

Brown observed that many people who turn to divine healing also try "holistic" approaches such as chiropractic, acupuncture, yoga, homeopathy, and Reiki -- the genesis of the Therapeutic Pluralism book project.

"When people are sick," she said, "many look for healing wherever they can find it. They really don't care about philosophical or theological consistency."