Philippa Koch, University of Chicago Divinity School
E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Fellow in Early American Religious Studies
“Healing the Body and Soul in Early America”
I study how understandings of illness, medicine, and benevolence developed in eighteenth-century America. I am interested specifically in how Christian communities responded to and participated in the changing ideas of medicine and charity that emerged with the scientific revolution and the rise of what would later be termed “humanitarianism.” Although eighteenth-century Christians—with their strong belief in God’s providence—are often seen as passive in their responses to disease and suffering, I argue that they were active participants in the interpretation of illness and in the medical therapies and charitable enterprises of the time. I work with manuscript and print sources from a variety of Christian communities in the transatlantic world, including Puritans, German Pietists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and missionaries and revivalists associated with the burgeoning methodist movement in England. Three loci focus my research and writing: first, explanations and interpretations of the origins, symptoms, and outcomes of disease and illness; second, the discussion, debate, and promotion of medical knowledge and treatments within religious communities; and third, the conception and promotion of charitable endeavors by religious communities as part of a mission to revitalize religion and transform the world.