June 18, 2024

Spiritual Therapies, Energy Medicine, and The Recuperative Middle, Justin Stein, March 4, 2024

In modern societies, attention to human beings’ complex needs has been largely divided into areas of specialization, with our bodies assigned to “medicine” (generally interpreted to mean biomedicine), our minds and emotions in the realm of “psychology,” and our souls entrusted to “religion” (or more recently, “spirituality”). Of course, lived practices often frustrate such differentiation, and recent developments like holistic medicine and integrative medicine try to attend to the health of individuals as whole beings. Holistic medicine tends to make space for the overlapping fields of “spiritual therapies” and “energy medicine,” whose promoters tend to posit the existence of a benevolent transpersonal force that governs human health. Practitioners frame their practices as a means to return to an ancient holism that predates the modern differentiation of human health into separate biochemical, psychosocial, and spiritual realms.

In this talk I will focus on the example of Reiki, often considered a paradigmatic form of spiritual healing and/or energy medicine, and consider how its practitioners and promoters have ambivalently located Reiki vis-à-vis the categories of religion and medicine. Drawing on examples from Reiki history as well as current efforts by practitioners to introduce Reiki to hospitals while also resisting state regulation, I will consider the challenges to secularity (and secularism) posed by appeals to a “recuperative middle” that predates the divide between religion and medicine.

Justin B. Stein is Director of Asian Studies at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in British Columbia. He received his MA in Religion from the University of Hawaii Manoa in 2009, and his PhD in the Study of Religion from the University of Toronto in 2017. He spent two years as a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Postdoctoral Fellow at Bukkyo University in Kyoto, Japan. In addition to his monograph Alternate Currents: Reiki’s Circulation in the Twentieth-Century North Pacific (University of Hawaii Press, 2023), Stein is the author of numerous scholarly articles and co-editor of The Routledge Handbook of Religion, Medicine, and Health (2022).

You can view the video from Justin’s talk here.