Week 3: Alternative Medicine in the 19th Cent. US

This week, we’re covering some of the alternative medicine practices that emerged in the 19th century (and will eventually decline, evolve and reemerge as contemporary CAM methods). 

While you’re reading, I want you to reflect on the alternative healing systems as a whole — how do they each define health and healing? How do they understand the cause of illness and disease? What does healing involve? How do they define “natural” and “drugs”?

I also want you to keep in mind the methods and values that define the alternative healing systems of the 1800’s and how they translate within the context of the Holistic Health Movement described in Baer’s Introduction chapter (Week 1). 

What trends and approaches covered in these chapters do you still see within the “wellness marketplace” and current pop-culture? (ex: focus on “natural”, patient focused, health responsibility on the individual, focus on prevention rather than curing, etc)

And finally, while we’ll explore this concept later in the Integrative Medicine text, alternative medicine systems that emerged during this time started to shift the responsibility of health and healing from the doctor to the individual patient. What, can you imagine, are some of the unintended consequences of shifting the responsibility of health and the blame of illness to the individual patient? 


Reading Guide

Nature Cures: Every Man His Own Physician: Thomsonianism (pg 25-48)

    • Whorton mentions the influence of Romantic philosophers in the early nineteeth century. What are these values and how are they reflected in the emergence of botanical medicine? 
    • What was the social context in which Thomsonian medicine arose? As a practice, who did it appeal to, and what was it resisting? 
    • How was Thomsonian medicine understand health, healing, and disease? How did regular medicine / allopathic doctors respond? 
    • What were the values of the Jacksonian-Era and how did Thomsonian medicine adapt / respond to these values? 

Nature Cures: Dilutions of Grandeur: Homeopathy (pg 49-75)

    • Describe Hahnemann’s process of “provings” and regular medicine’s reaction to it. 
    • Describe the homeopathic principle of “like cures likes” and its relation to healing.
    • Describe the homeopathic principle of “infinitesimals” and its relation to healing.
    • Why might homeopathy be considered “spiritual”? 
    • What does it mean when Hahnemann is described as a “vitalist”? What is the relationship between homeopathy and the concept of “vital force”?
    • How did Hahnemann speculate that his healing system “worked”?
    • Why was homeopathy so popular among its patients?  
    • How were the patients of homeopathy different (in population, demographics, etc), than Thomsonian patients? Why?

Nature Cures: Therapeutic Universalism: Naturopathy (pg 191-217)

Note: I had you skip over “Chapter 4, Physical Puritanism: Hygeiotherapy”, which lays out a lot of the foundations of Naturopathy — it’s a fascinating read, but this chapter covers vaccinations and vivisection, both of which are vital to understanding contemporary questions of alternative medicine and naturopathy. Just remember we’re missing a chapter and take a sixty-year leap in terms of socio-historical context. 

    • How does Naturopathy understand illness and disease?
    • What is the role of the individual in regards to personal health and illness? What, can you imagine, are some of the unintended consequences of shifting responsibility of health and the blame of illness to the individual patient? 
    • What is the naturopathic approach to “drugs”? 
    • What does “Ideal Living” include, from the naturopathic perspective? What is its relationship to Protestant, Christian ideals?  
    • What is the role of the healer / doctor in the naturopathic approach? 
    • What is involved / included in the naturopathic healing regimen? 
    • Describe the relationship between naturopathy and the anti-vaccination movement? And the anti-vivisection / animal experimentation movement? 



  • Romanticism
  • Jacksonian-Era
  • Domestic medicine
  • Folk medicine
  • Vitalism
  • Vital Force
  • Dynamis
  • Hydropathy
  • Hygeiotherapy
  • Grahamism
  • Vivisection

Commenting on Peer EduBlogs

First of all, take a deep breath…

It’s Sunday evening, so that mean’s we’ve made it through the first parts of two assignments: the group discussions and the reflection post. I got a number of panicky emails, but y’all are doing great, I promise!  

That being said, we’re clearly working through a few kinks. Thank you for your patience as we work through this together, as a community. 

First, it looks like the EduBlogs automatically set comments to require manual approval. Make sure you go back into Settings > Discussion and adjust that setting. Here are step-by-step guides on how to adjust comments settings for past comments and overall

Also, I think a number of you waited until Sunday evening to post your reflections, so a lot of comments happened at the last minute as well.

How do you suggest we move forward in the scheduling of posts? Should posts be due by Friday, and then comments by Sunday? Or do you think in the coming weeks posts will naturally be more spread out throughout the week. Tell me your thoughts in the comments section below; your insight is valued! 

Tomorrow I’ll post the weekly announcement and by the end of the week will provide details ont the Choice Projects. Keep an eye out for those and check your EduBlogs occasionally (or set up email notifications for comments) as I’ll be posting on your first reflections with individual feedback soon. 

EduBlog Resources

I posted this information in the Week 2 Announcement, but also wanted to re-post it along with resources for technical help while you create your Reflection Journals on the EduBlog platform. 

For a basic introduction to EduBlogs / WordPress: 

For various EduBlog User Guides: 

For technical support:

For help navigating EduBlogs


If you find any other resources that you’ve found helpful, please comment with the links below!



Discussion Groups: A reminder to contact your group

The discussion groups have been set, and all have at least three (3) members.

If you haven’t already, contact your group members — your first meeting should take place sometime this week. 

If you’ve already been in contact, and a group member isn’t responding, move on without them. It’s the student’s responsibility to be in touch. Group members that aren’t in touch by the first meeting will be dropped from the group.

The group dynamics are tricky in that you need to be both flexible / accommodating, while also managing schedules of up to six people. Do your best, and if you’re really not able to come to an agreement with your group, reach out and let me know. We’ll figure something out.

Week 2: Medical Pluralism

This week, our readings focus on the concept of medical pluralism and the dynamic between alternative healing systems and “regular medicine” (what will eventually become “biomedicine”). While you read about some of the “founders” and approaches / values of these systems, take careful note of which communities and populations are draw to the systems, and what ways that they are “resisting” the establishment, medical or otherwise. 

I also urge you to think about what’s missing from these conversations, right off the bat. While Baer does a succinct job in bringing attention to the issues of race, ethnicity, and gender in alternative healing systems in subsequent chapters, I find that both chapters this week are inattentive to the voices, contributions and participation of people of color in these early heterodox systems. Baer notes that many of the founders of natural healing modalities took knowledge gained from “herb doctors” (14), Native American systems (16), and local healers — I’m curious about who these folks were and how this plays into conversations of intellectual property, appropriation, etc. Whorton doesn’t seem to engage in these questions at all.   


Group Discussions: 

The groups should be close to solidifying. If you haven’t already, start to reach out to your group members and schedule your first discussion to cover the readings for Week 1 and Week 2. 

If your group has less than three (3) people, I’ve un-enrolled you and asked that you join another group. The groups do not have a maximum number of people required, but I do find that at least three in a group is helpful in terms of diversity of ideas and division of work. 

Remember, these groups can meet virtually through a video conferencing platform (via Google Hangouts, Skype, Zoom, etc) — just make sure you note the platform you use (or physical location if you meet in-person) in your Discussion Notes. 

Discussion Group Notes #1 is due on Sunday, Jan 26th via iCollege group assignments. For details about the assignment, make sure you’ve read over all of the documents linked here


Reflection Journals: 

This week you’ll start your Reflection Journal via EduBlog. For details on getting started, check out the Learning Journal Assignment tab, and feel free to comment with any questions you might have. 

By the end of this week (January 26th), I expect you to have:

  • created your EduBlog site,
  • connected it to “My Class”,
  • written your first reflection journal entry,
  • and commented on two peer reflections.

For those of you interested in a basic introduction to EduBlogs / WordPress, take a look at this video, Getting started with EduBlogs

EduBlogs also has a number of helpful User Guides 


Reading Prompts

“Nineteenth-Century American Medicine as a Pluralistic System”, Hans A. Baer, (7-30)

    • Baer uses religious language throughout the chapter to describe the dynamic between regular /bio-medicine and CAM (heterodox, heresy, convert) – why does he do this? 
    • What is the relationship between these healing methods and 19th cent. white American Protestantism? What do you know about this religious background and its values / worldview?
    • According to Baer, why are the heterodox healing systems so popular in the 19th century? What are the social contexts and cultural values that makes medical pluralism so appealing? What are these communities resisting? 
    • What does the medical pluralism of the 19th century tell you about CAM today, if anything? 


“The Hippocratic Heresy: Alternative Medicine’s Worldview,” James C. Whorton (3-24)

    • How does the cartoon described in the opening paragraphs of Whorton’s chapter illustrate the core philosophies and values of alternative healing practices, in opposition to “regular” / biomedicine? 
    • What approaches and prescriptions were utilized by heroic medical practitioners? Why was it called “heroic” medicine? 
    • What are some of the ways in which “natural healing” differentiates itself from and critqiues “regular medicine”? 
    • On page 11, Whorton describes CAM’s early relationship with “Alternative Science” — how do you think this approach might manifest in later iterations of holistic health? 
    • As a historian, how does Whorton approach the question of “efficacy” and whether the healing “works”? How do you think this relates to our approach as Religious Studies scholars? 



  • Medical pluralism 
  • Heroic medicine
  • Calomel
  • Vitalism
  • Allopathy
  • Mesmerism
  • Spiritualism
  • Mind Cure
  • Bourgeois, petit-bourgeois 
  • Empiricism 
  • Scientific pathology
  • Holistic

A few thoughts about the EduBlog platform…

I’ve had a few students email me questions about why I’m using the EduBlogs platform — and I get it — having four or five classes, each using a different platform (iCollege, WordPress, etc), can be really tedious. On top of learning the course materials, you’re also supposed to learn to navigate different websites. It can add up to a lot of unexpected work. 

So I wanted to take a moment and explain a little bit more about my general reasoning for using EduBlogs as the course platform and the motivation behind the “Learning Journal” assignment. I promise I’ve been thoughtful in choosing this platform, and I’m not just trying to make your student life more difficult. 


Technology and “Applied Religious Studies”

In the Religious Studies department, we’ve moving towards what has been called “Applied Religious Studies”, and there have been a lot of conversations about what that actually means. 

To me, not only are we exploring course topics that can apply to student’s later careers outside of academia (non-profit sector, medicine, education, etc), my work in the department has always played with digital pedagogy — the idea of using technology and digital resources to enhance one’s education.

So for me, learning the in’s-and-outs of a new digital platform is actually part of the work of being a modern student. If you get nothing else out of this course, my hope is that you’ll be able to put a valuable new skill set on your resume — that you have a working knowledge of WordPress systems. 

And on a personal note, some of my favorite classes I took as a graduate student incorporated different types of digital projects. I came out of the Religious Studies department creating wikipedia-esque sources on Weebly and Wix, building out a website for a study abroad trip to Turkey, coaching students in how to  “write for podcasts”, among others… Check these out if you have a chance…


Discussion Boards and Reflection Journals

Another line of reasoning I’ve played through is that, while I’ve spent the last few years becoming proficient in iCollege, the platform itself isn’t suited to what I’m trying to create in terms of reflection journals. 

Thankfully during my university career I only had one course that used “Discussion Boards”. I absolutely hated them, and thought they were a complete waste of my time. But when I started teaching online and looked into “Best Practices,” a lot of the content I came across used a model something along the lines of: assign readings, record lectures over powerpoint slides, exams / papers, and discussion boards. And honestly, from my perspective at least, that’s just not how people learn. Even if they do, it’s not a style that’s actually conducive to higher order thinking — I’ll come back to that later…

That’s all to say, iCollege is a great platform for Discussion Posts. It’s streamline and it’s very easy to grade on the professor’s end. It makes life easier for the professor / instructor.

But in my view, it’s also busy work. Students throw together word minimums of non-sense, or feel restricted in what to write about. It’s just another assignment to check off every week. 

My hope is that, through the Reflection Journal (blogs), each student will have their own space to think and process in a loosely structured way, hopefully aided by the less “academic” and sterile digital environment. You’ll have a little corner of the internet all to yourself, to process your thoughts on the course material, to get your toes wet in what it’s like to be a producer in the digital world, and to hopefully participate in an online community (though for the moment it will just be your course peers). It’s a fluid space where you can integrate content you’re consuming other places, like social media, and make connections that might otherwise be stifled in a typical online classroom model. 


Creative Expression and Higher Order Thinking

And finally, one of the biggest reasons for my switch over to EduBlogs has to do with the the “Choice Board” assignments. While I’m finalizing the details on that end and will explore it more with you next week, I’m hoping EduBlogs will encourage students to not just learn a new digital media, but also to present the course content you’ve learned in a creative way (ala Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning). 

Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning - Vanderbilt

from Vanderbilt University Center for Learning

I’ve found that the best courses (or at least the one’s where I retained knowledge learned much longer), were classes in which I wasn’t simply reading and recalling what we’d covered in class (through tests or papers), but instead taking that material and presenting in a completely new, innovative way. 

So while iCollege is an excellent platform for organizing course content, I haven’t quite figured out how to incorporate innovative or interesting projects into its design. If you’ve got ideas from other courses you’ve taken, please let me know!

And all that being said, this is also an experiment. I hope it’s successful, but there is a chance that it will fail. But if you show up, and are a little bit flexible with the course, the learning curve on EduBlogs, and trust that I’m going to do my best to trouble-shoot it on my end too, then I think it’ll turn out just fine. 

So tell me, what kind of online courses have you taken in the past? Have any of your courses integrated novel projects that really engaged you, or are you used to tests and papers? Tell me about your experience in higher education — what you love, what you hate, what you wish was different, and what you’d like to see more of…

Welcome to the RELS3700: CAM Course Blog!

I won’t ask my students to do something I can’t do myself; so, I’ve created a blog for our Spring 2020 course, RELS3700: Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 

This will be a space where I post course announcements, assignment details, general musings on the readings and my own reflections on my own developments as an instructor. Please bear with me as I get the hang of it. 

Well, here goes nothing…