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Absent friends in medical humanities
  1. Stephen Pattison
  1. Rev Prof S Pattison, Dept of Theology and Religion, The University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK; s.pattison.1{at}

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Several humanities disciplines, including the study of modern languages and of religion and theology, can greatly enhance discussions of humane healthcare and should be encouraged to contribute more.

Medical humanities have benefited from many of the disciplines that have chosen to offer their knowledge, techniques and insights to this field. Philosophy, literary analysis, media studies and social history, as well as art and creative writing at the more practical end of things, have all contributed generously to the feast of increasing understanding of healthcare through humanities. For this we should all be grateful.

But there are many humanities disciplines and subdisciplines that have so far not really contributed at all, or have contributed only sporadically. For example, healthcare is conducted significantly through the medium of language. In many multicultural Western societies, this is not so much one language as many. Linguists maintain that every language contains world views and concepts and meanings that are modified, even completely lost, in translation. This means that to learn a language is to encounter the otherness of different worlds and cultures and to change as a person. So where is the interest in learning languages and thinking about what linguistic study might offer in healthcare? Thus far, it seems, modern languages do not form a significant part of medical humanities. Nor, for that matter, is there much expressed interest in the classical languages and literatures of non-modern cultures such as ancient Rome and Greece, where much of our intellectual and assumptive …

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