The Plurality of Meanings Related to Symptoms and Illnesses: The Experiences of Estonian Spiritual Practitioners

Monday, 11 July 2016: 15:03
Location: Hörsaal 18 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Marko UIBU, University of Tartu, Estonia
Medical pluralization has been rapid in Post-Soviet Estonia as the state-organized and controlled healthcare system has been increasingly challenged by alternative approaches to health and healing. With the growing pluralism in health, the range of possible interpretations of symptoms and illnesses has broadened. The milieu of new spirituality offers various conceptualizations of illnesses that tend to give wider meanings to bodily sensations that biomedicine classifies as symptoms of pathologies. For example, according to a wide-spread belief promoted by several teachers (including famous Estonian doctor and spiritual leader Luule Viilma) morally wrong deeds and thoughts affect certain organs and cause certain symptoms and diseases. The followers of these types of teachings aim to establish a 'dialogue' with the body and/or the organs; to learn to understand different sensations as messages. Personally experienced ‘signs’ are seen as the source of truthful information: it is often emphasized that people should not trust anybody else but their own experience and bodily signs. Different sources of knowledge may lead to open conflicts about the interpretations but there are also some attempts to combine and mingle the vocabulary and approaches. In the presentation I will observe the plurality of meanings about bodily sensations: how the symptom is recognized; what kinds of sources (e.g. professional, 'lay-medical', alternative) are used. I analyze qualitative material collected by in-depth interviews as well as discussions on different internet forums dedicated to health issues.