Medicine and Religion in the 19th Century

The Moral Treatment of Madness in the Asylums of the Order of Saint John of God (1830–1860)
By Hervé Guillemain

In the first half of the 19th century, the order of Saint John of God, which specialized in lunatics, adopted a strategy to get round the medical establishment which had been strengthened by the 1838 law. The order simultaneously extended its institutional network of care and assistance. However, although doctors and friars fought each other in the arena of politics and discourses, a closer look at the lunatics' treatment practices would lead to downplay such a historical opposition. The sanctifying monastic community fulfilled the psychiatrists' wishes. The latter applied a moral treatment which fell within the Christian legacy and somehow amounted to a form of spiritual counseling. Before 1860, religion led to salvation. The intervention of the chaplains within asylums and the enduring religious practices in the non-religious asylums established this point. The following decade should be considered as a break in the medical approach of religious practices.

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