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Walking Together: Paul Farmer, Gustavo Gutiérrez, and the Limits of the Modern Juxtaposition of Religion and Global Health

Mara G. Block

                Last week, hundreds of people crowded into the sanctuary of First Church in Cambridge to witness a conversation between Dr. Paul Farmer, Professor Davíd Carrasco, and MDiv candidate Lauren Taylor about Farmer’s newest book, In the Company of the Poor (2013), co-written with Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez.  The book’s structure emulates a conversation through six essays, old and new, alternately authored by Farmer and Gutiérrez.  It culminates with the transcript of an interview with Farmer and Gutiérrez at the University of Notre Dame in the fall of 2011.  The writings in the book portray a shared humility, a mutual respect, and a deep and long-standing friendship between two revolutionary thinkers whose respective disciplines share a grounding in the reality of social suffering and a preferential option for the poor—“O for the P,”[1] as Farmer has it.  Their distinct commitments and irreducible differences never challenge Farmer’s confidence that insights from liberation theology can inform the practice of medicine, nor Gutiérrez’s conviction that the work carried out by Partners In Health bears a “deep resonance with the message of the gospel.”[2]  But what exactly is at stake in this book and in the conversations that it has inspired?  Certainly not a sudden and new realization that their work rests on common values.[3]  What’s remarkable here, I think, is less their comparable paths than the fact that they’re walking them together.

Event Recap: Paul Farmer

On February 11th, Paul Farmer came to HDS to discuss his new book, In the Company of the Poor, written with Gustavo Gutierrez. Drawn from the extensive and innovative dialogue between Dr. Farmer (medical doctor and founder of Partners in Health)  and Father Gutierrez (the father of liberation theology), the book explores the common ground between the two thinkers’ respective careers in global health and liberation theology.

Dr. Farmer was joined onstage by Professor David Carrasco, historian of religion, and Lauren Taylor, MDiv candidate and public health researcher. Their discussion examined the theological roots of Christianity's preferential option for the poor, as well as the practical challenges of implementing such a worldview in the global economy.

Lauren Taylor began by noting the confusion of her colleagues in public health when they learned that she was studying in divinity school. For her, this was a logical extension of her public health work: “I began to understand that ministerial skills were important in the study of health care,” she says, acknowledging the close connection between medical science and religion.

"Informal Conversations" at the Harvard Global Health Institute

Professor Ahmed Ragab launched the Harvard Global Health Institute’s Fall 2013 “Informal Conversations” series, which explores cross-disciplinary issues, ideas, challenges, and opportunities in global health, with a luncheon talk involving faculty and students on October 30, 2013. Prof. Ragab began by framing "global health" within its broader history: interactions between the power-dominant rich regions of the "global north" and the historically lower- and middle-income regions of the "global south". A secular discourse has shaped these interactions, separating religion from health in much of the Western world since the sixteenth century. Both medical missions and colonial medicine have perpetuated power differentials, and these effects continue to impact the lived experiences of many around the world for whom faith is an important part of a complex set of beliefs that in turn affect health attitudes and behaviors.



"Bioethics Rebound, Religion and Social Science as Social Practice"



"Autonomy Then and Now"



"Ritual Disjunctions: Theories of Ritual from China and Elsewhere"



In just a few days 120 graduate students and early career scholars will converge upon Andover Hall for the second annual “Ways of Knowing: Graduate Conference on Religion.” Our panelists represent sixty academic institutions from across the United states and the world, and they include master’s and doctoral students as well as post-graduates and junior faculty. The many paper titles in the conference program reflect a broad spectrum of interests, disciplines, and methodologies. The conference promises a high-energy gathering in a friendly environment.

As a scholar of religion the great joy of a conference like this is the remarkable diversity of thought and experience that gathers for these two days. Regardless of my research focus, my favored theoretical tools, or my religious tradition I can learn something from every project present. Last year’s conference saw panels on Latina feminist intercultural epistemologies, Muslim networks of solidarity, and Foucauldian reflections on friendship, among many others.  This year’s conference includes panels on missionaries, medicine, and imperialism, ritual in ancient Jewish texts, and a range of panels exploring the intersection of science and religion. This remarkable diversity makes “Ways of Knowing” the most exciting conference of its kind.