The cultural diversity of healing: meaning, metaphor and mechanism


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Abstract

This chapter reviews the great diversity of healing practices found around the world and represented in most urban centres. A general model of healing is presented that includes both the physiological processes central to biomedical theory and practice and the symbolic aspects of healing that have physiological, psychological and social effects. Work on the theory of metaphor in cognitive science provides a way to understand the transformation of experience across levels of sensory, affective and conceptual meaning. Healing rituals and other symbolic action can thus have effects on physiology, experience, interpersonal interaction and social positioning. Complementary medicine and traditional forms of healing are attractive to many individuals both because of the limitations of biomedicine and their metaphoric logic of transformation, which promises wholeness, balance and well-being. Participation in specific healing traditions may also contribute to individual and collective identity.

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