By: Ashley Werlinich & Rachel Warner
As part of the Theology, Medicine, and Culture seminar series at Duke University, two divinity students, Peter Gunderman and Laura Johnson, presented their research on biblical exegesis and literary theory last Friday, January 15th.
Peter Gunderman’s presentation, “The Prophetic Voice of Albert Camus,” dealt with prophetic elements in Albert Camus’ The Plague, proposing how the text could be used to teach medical students about the purpose of medicine, the role of the physician, and the future of medicine. Accordingly, Gunderman used the figures of Dr. Bernard Rieux, the story’s narrator, and Father Paneloux, a Jesuit priest, to explore how medicine and theology overlap in Camus’s text. Self-proclaimed as neither an atheist nor religious believer, Camus invites critical reflection into how Christian themes of healing and forgiveness may be united with medical practice to promote more holistic and compassionate health care. Gunderman is a medical student at Indiana University and hopes to develop this project into a course that bridges the gap between theology and medicine in modern medical education.
Laura Johnson’s presentation, “Chaotic Grief Embodied,” was a close reading of Lamentations 3, in which she explored the body’s physical and mental reactions to the processes of grief and trauma. Her research —which was inspired by her work as a hospital chaplain in the hospice division at Duke University Medical Center—argued against the notion of identifiable stages of grieving such as Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s famous five stage theory. She suggested instead that grief is chaotic and incredibly varied and emphasized how Lamentations 3 lyrically demonstrates the anguish, cyclicality, and turmoil unique to human grief. Johnson also argued that doctors, priests, and patients must all be aware of the many bodily and spiritual responses to grief, for in understanding these responses, practitioners and patients can help to alleviate some of the spiritual and physical torment associated with the grieving process.