Spirits of Protestantism: Medicine, Healing, and Liberal Christianity

[Cross-posted from New Books in Christian Studies] Liberal Protestants are often dismissed as reflecting nothing more than a therapeutic culture or viewed as a measuring rod for the decline of Christian orthodoxy. Rarely have they been the subjects of anthropological inquiry. Pamela Klassen, Professor of Religion at the University of Toronto, wants to change that. Her recent book, Spirits of Protestantism: Medicine, Healing, and Liberal Christianity (University of California Press, 2011), charts a transition in liberal Protestant self-understanding over the course of the twentieth century whereby “supernatural liberalism,” as Klassen calls it, enabled imaginative shifts between Christianity, science, and secularism. In the process, she explores how Protestants went from seeing themselves as Christians who combined medicine and evangelism to effect ‘conversions to modernity’ among others, including Native Americans and colonized people, to understanding themselves as complicit in an oftentimes racist imperialism. At the same time, they have recombined forms of healing in new ways, drawing on practices such as yoga and reiki in order to continue the search for a universalized type of wholeness – both spiritual and physical. Focusing on Canadian Protestants in the Anglican and United churches, Spirits of Protestantism combines rich historical examples and four years of ethnographic study to show how liberal Protestants have exerted a major influence in public life and even on anthropology itself.