Note: all conference sessions will be held in the Thompson Room, Barker Center 110,
12 Quincy Street, Cambridge MA.
Charms (understood as ritual means of addressing situations of sickness, stress, and anxiety by way of a combination of special language and special actions) are universal across human societies. Early manuscripts in Latin and various vernacular languages contain several examples of healing charms that blur the lines between magic and science. Medical thinking informs literary production worldwide, from its ancient beginnings to modern times. In the present day, people routinely consult specialists in naturopathy, Ayurveda, and traditional Chinese medicine alongside, or in preference to, modern, scientific medicine.
Not only does the study of healing charms and other medical beliefs and practices have the potential to yield insight into traditional and historical systems of knowledge, but such study often has major implications for modern medicine. Charms can lead to the development of new medication and procedures, as when researchers from the University of Nottingham discovered that a charm from the 9th century Anglo Saxon manuscript “Bald’s Leechbook” proved effective in eradicating strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Pharmaceutical companies spend significant amount of money on researching the traditional pharmocopiae of indigenous cultures across the planet in order to develop new drugs.
Because of the broad nature of this topic, this conference aims to bring together researchers whose work spans a broad range of areas, time periods, and disciplinary approaches. The nature of this conference brings together the study of medicine, science, and religion, thereby bridging gaps between disciplines and uncovering connections between the traditions of various cultures.