Health & salvation: the social construction of illness and healing in the charismatic christian church
Health serves as a metaphor for salvation in the Charismatic Christian community at Tuscaloosa Life Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. This ethnomedical account of the church looks at how church members conceptualize the causes of illness and approach the treatment of suffering in the context of their everyday lives. Suffering is a social experience, and while biomedical health care is an available and socially acceptable form of treatment among church congregants, many people look outside the confines of biomedical treatment to substantiate and validate their illness experiences. The shared cognitive models of the divine healing system in this population inform the ways that church members think about the causes of illness and the requirements or pathways for healing. My research seeks to elucidate these models or modes of thinking in an effort to understand the attraction to this particular healing system. My methods include participant observation at Tuscaloosa Life Church over a 6-month period, semi-structured interviews with core members of the church, and cultural consensus analysis among the larger church body using free-listing and pile-sorting techniques. My research shows that the church community at TLC does ascribe to shared models of health and illness - both in the way they think about the etiology of illness and in the ways that they conceptualize the requirements or pathways to divine healing - and these models allow church members to articulate their suffering experiences in more spiritual terms and to use these experiences to reenact the salvation story.