In this essay, I show how the building of institutionalized medicine before and during the Civil War, and the narratives about that transformation after it, are crucial sites for producing a fantasy of secularity. Investigating an archive that includes medical textbooks, medical journal polemics, and medical fiction by physician-author S. Weir Mitchell, I reveal how nineteenth-century medical discourse depended on a particular relationship to religion: professional medicine distinguished itself historically from the medieval era and ideologically from religious practices aligned with, among other things, superstition and magic. By redefining “bad” medicine as “bad” religion and placing it firmly in the past, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century physicians forged a story about medicine’s modern and secular character, but one that would prove an ever-shifting target.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Health(social science)
- Literature and Literary Theory