February 2014

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.

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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.… Read more about Event Recap: Paul Farmer