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Folk healing, authenticity and fraud

McClean, Stuart; Moore, Ronnie

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Dr Stuart McClean
Associate Professor Public Health (Health & Wellbeing)

Ronnie Moore


Amanda van Eck Duymaer van Twist


Folk-inspired healing such as folk healing, spiritual healing and crystal healing are part of a broad healing system that can be defined in an anthropological sense as minority religion since it exhibits many of the same features. Folk healers may think more widely in terms of spirituality (in a local and not necessarily religious context) than more formal religion, such as that found in faith healing (where reference is also made to global tendencies). Debates about authenticity and fraudulent healers, and more generally about “quacks” and health-related deception appear to have become more common in line with general fears regarding risks associated with modern living. These raise important questions about the sincerity for, and / or authenticity of healing acts and intentions and about issues of legitimacy and authority. Claims of healing that involve deception as well as the conscious intention to deceive are fraudulent, but there is a more nuanced discussion to be had about authenticity of healing acts per se, and not just those related to folk healing or indeed to training, education and accreditation.
Anthropologically the judgement of fraudulent healing is problematic and infused with questions about ideology, power, status and Western constructions of sincerity and trust. In pre-modern times the healer’s status would have been defined by the dominant view which saw their position as God ordained (otherworldly), and not confused with society’s roles (this worldly). In a modern understanding of this, the healer now plays the ‘role of healer’ as a social (not naturalised) status (like Goffman’s ‘Presentation of the Self’), and the essentialised identity or ‘being’ of healer has been replaced. The connections and boundaries between fraud (outright deception normally for personal gain such as money or status), poor practice, mistaken beliefs, and incompetence require discussion. There is no evidence to support a healer’s claims, and many do make claims that are difficult to substantiate (as does religion). Moreover, the literature is replete with examples of healers who appear authentic (in that there appears to be efficacy) as well as those that are inauthentic. In this chapter there are problems with coming to an agreement about what that means in practice, and the complexity is confounded by healing systems and healing groups that may collectively sanction what some might regard as fraudulent activity as the basis for group identity and kinship. In this sense authenticity is socially constructed and fluid.


McClean, S., & Moore, R. (2014). Folk healing, authenticity and fraud. In A. van Eck Duymaer van Twist (Ed.), Minority Religions and Fraud: In Good Faith. London: Ashgate

Publication Date Sep 1, 2014
Deposit Date Mar 14, 2017
Publicly Available Date Mar 14, 2017
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Series Title Ashgate Inform Series on Minority Religions and Spiritual Movements
Book Title Minority Religions and Fraud: In Good Faith
ISBN 9781472409119
Keywords folk healing, authenticity, fraud
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