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A Social Anthropologist’s Analysis of Contemporary Healing, Part 1

The consultant claimed that this was a case of “spontaneous remission.” However, the available medical literature on this particular type of tumor contains no reference to any other case of “spontaneous remission.”

In my follow-up study of John Wimber’s Harrogate conference, I found a number of cases which were similarly difficult or impossible to explain away by reference to known medical processes. One of those whom I followed up told me how in 1983 she had received many injuries to her neck, back, arms and right knee when she had been involved in a “severe car crash.” She had prolonged treatment, including frequent physiotherapy sessions, but continued to have pain in her right knee. In 1986 a consultant diagnosed her as having contracted Hoffa’s disease in her knee. This is “post-traumatic intra-pattellar fat pad syndrome,” but once the condition is established it is “virtually incapable of cure other than by surgical excision [i.e. cutting out] of the painful piece of fat.”

However, at John Wimber’s Harrogate conference this same woman received prayer for her knee and discovered a very significant improvement: “Now it’s so much better that the only time I feel it is if I’ve been for a long walk or bang it against something … [such as] when I knocked it against some steel railings and knocked the knee badly.…” She therefore said it was “90% to 95% healed.” Some people, however, might say it was actually 100% healed, if these isolated incidents were due not to the Hoffa’s disease but to natural bruising or other factors.

In this case, the woman’s doctor, in reply to my inquiry, could only repeat the consultant’s opinion that it is “virtually incapable of cure” except through surgery. He then commented, “I gather she is now very much better and she regards herself as cured.”10

Doctors confirm that they have come across cases of apparently inexplicable recovery following Christian prayer.

This kind of case certainly does not fit the superficial opinion (unsupported by any objective evidence) that the healings which occur at Wimber’s conferences “are not real miracles at all but are only self-induced ‘mind cures’ for relatively innocuous and unverifiable ailments.”11 In an appendix to my book Healing: Fiction, Fantasy or Fact? I list all the different types of physical complaints for which people received prayer at Harrogate.12 I also give the maximum, minimum and mean (average) degrees of healing for each condition on a nine-point scale from no healing (point one) through to total healing (point nine). The sixty-eight cases reported of total healing included conditions as diverse as arthritis in the neck, hand or leg; severe bone malformation due to injury; painful and swollen lymph glands; inability to hear in the higher register; eye squint; hernia; prolapse of the womb; cystitis; allergic reactions; vaginal bleeding (which had been continuing for twenty-five days); sleeping sickness; endometriosis; urinary problems; fever; breathing difficulties; and pain behind the eyes.

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Category: Fall 2008, In Depth

About the Author: David C. Lewis [as of 1993] is a cultural anthropologist and is currently a Research Associate of the Mongolia and Inner Asian Studies Unit at the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England, where he received his Ph.D. (Anthropology). He also serves as a Consultant Anthropologist for several Christian mission organizations. He has conducted research projects at Nottingham University and the Oxford Hardy Research Centre (Religious Experience Research Project, 1984-1985). He has written numerous scholarly articles and books, including Healing: Fiction, Fantasy or Fact? (Hodder & Stoughton).

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