African American Folk Healing

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Overview

Cure a nosebleed by holding a silver quarter on the back of the neck. Treat an earache with sweet oil drops. Wear plant roots to keep from catching colds. Within many African American families, these kinds of practices continue today, woven into the fabric of black culture, often communicated through women. Such folk practices shape the concepts about healing that are diffused throughout African American communities and are expressed in myriad ways, from faith healing to making a mojo.

Stephanie Y. Mitchem presents a fascinating study of African American healing. She sheds light on a variety of folk practices and traces their development from the time of slavery through the Great Migrations. She explores how they have continued into the present and their relationship with alternative medicines. Through conversations with black Americans, she demonstrates how herbs, charms, and rituals continue folk healing performances. Mitchem shows that these practices are not simply about healing; they are linked to expressions of faith, delineating aspects of a holistic epistemology and pointing to disjunctures between African American views of wellness and illness and those of the culture of institutional medicine.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Mitchem, who teaches religious studies at the University of South Carolina, explores folk healing as a "faith expression" in black communities. While she includes some of the remedies used by African-Americans (e.g., to lower your blood pressure, put Spanish moss in your drink), her research goes far beyond collecting cures. Indeed, Mitchem argues that for African-Americans healing practices are part of a larger system of meaning, one that is sometimes in conflict with institutionalized medicine. Black folk healing has persisted in part because a racist society has long denied adequate care to black people-folk healing, Mitchem persuasively argues, allows African-Americans agency "in defining their own bodies, exerting some control over life." But even when African-Americans can find equitable medical care, folk practices will persist because they are life-giving and because they holistically address physical, economic and spiritual needs. Mitchem could have offered a more robust analysis of the commodification of folk medicine-she notes that a Detroit "Hoodoo 101" class cost $75, but fails to adequately probe the meeting of folk medicine and the marketplace. That omission is a minor flaw in a fascinating study that makes a real contribution to discussions of health, wellness and faith in America. (July)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
From the Publisher

“Persuasively argued. . . . A fascinating study that makes a real contribution to discussions of health, wellness and faith in America.“-Publishers Weekly

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“An exploration of the history and practices of black healers and healing illuminating the vital cultural, intellectual, and spiritual expression of a people. This fine multidisciplinary work draws deeply and thoughtfully from the experiences and words of its subjects, offering alternative visions of human creativity, resistance, and community.”
-Yvonne Chireau,author of Black Magic: Religion and the African-American Conjuring Tradition

“A readable book well suited for most academic libraries.”
-Choice

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African American Folk Healing is an insightful work that places folk healing within the context of larger spiritual, political, and intellectual movements. It illuminates the interconnectedness among activism, medicine, gender studies, folklore, and theology that influence the ways African American female healers work and live.”
-The Journal of African American History

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“According to the author, African American folk healing sees sickness as arising from situations that break ‘relational connections ’ of the unborn, the born, and the dead, which are intertwined.”
-Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814757314
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 7/1/2007
  • Pages: 200
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephanie Mitchem is associate professor of religious studies and women's studies at the University of South Carolina. She is the author of Introducing Womanist Theology, as well as African American Women Tapping Power and Spiritual Wellness.

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