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Evolution of religious and secular medical treatments

Ongoing

Project description

Sacred cures and scientific cures: Science and religion in the evolution of folk medicine

Across cultures, people address health problems with a range of religious and naturalistic ways. Our project will explore the role of these sacred and secular cures in helping people endure illnesses. We aim to understand if treatments for severe and unpredictable diseases draw more upon religious treatments that more benign and predictable ailments.

This question will be addressed in three different ways.

  • First, using a corpus of >2,000 Irish folk cures from the early 20th century, we will explore how treatments vary with disease severity.
  • Second, we will conduct fieldwork in Mauritius where people commonly on religious and secular treatments.
  • Finally, we will conduct a range of experiments to explore how these patterns manifest in contemporary UK populations.

The findings will help us understand how psychological processes shape the evolution of cultural phenomena like medical treatments.


Meet the Principal Investigator(s) for the project

Dr Mícheál de Barra - My research is concerned with health and behaviour, and it often takes an evolutionary approach. I have examined how infectious disease shaped cognitive evolution, how behaviour alters infection risk, and how maladaptive ideas about health and healing spread and persist. I have a particular interest in the social and cognitive processes that drive overtreatment (the use of ineffective medical therapies).  
Dr Aiyana Willard -
Aiyana Willard is a Lecturer (psychology) in the Centre for Culture and Evolution at Brunel University London and a research associate at the Institute for Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford. Her research interests are in the cultural evolution of religion, karma, witchcraft and other supernatural beliefs. Academic career: - Lecturer in Psychology, Brunel University London, 2018-current., Postdoctoral researcher, Oxford, 2017-2018, Postdoctoral researcher, University of Texas at Austin, 2015-2017, PhD in Psychology, University of British Columbia, 2015, MA in Psychology, University of British Columbia, 2011,