Candy Gunther Brown, professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University and co-founder of the Global Medical Research Institute, discusses empirical research on prayer for healing, her own miracle story, and yoga in public schools. Candy has held her current position since 2006. She has been studying mostly Christianity in the United States and globally since 2006, however, her specific focus on healing practices has led to including world religions in her studies. She initially focused on the history of Christianity, but later realized that much of the growth of Christianity was in areas of Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity, where people pray for God to heal them when they are sick. This led her to explore questions about modern medicine’s effects on praying for healing, particularly in contemporary practices.
Clinical Studies on the Healing Effects of Prayer
Candy has conducted field work in Mozambique and Brazil, working with medical doctors and researchers to develop clinical studies on the effects of prayer, and has published significant findings in peer reviewed medical journals. Dialogue with patients led Candy to explore the world of complementary and alternative medicine, which has become more mainstream medically than some of the prayer practices. Her research has taken on different emphases over the years, including being an expert witness in court cases over yoga in public education. One of the best courses she took at Harvard was constitutional law, which helped her consider constitutional issues involved with yoga and meditation in public schools from a legal perspective.
A Personal Experience with Healing through Prayer
Candy’s personal journey also led to new academic and personal questions, as she met someone she met while at Harvard during graduate school and had new experiences that opened up new academic and personal questions. The Global Medical Research Institute (GMRI) was founded by Carol and her husband Josh, a brain scientist at Washington University in St. Louis. After Josh’s untreatable terminal brain tumor was diagnosed, they began investigating the power of prayer for healing. They found that prayer can lead to significant improvements in various aspects of life, including hearing, vision, and emotional well-being. When Josh recovered, they decided this was an area that should be studied more consistently and in more depth, so they founded the GMRI.
Healing through Prayer and the Placebo Effect
Candy discusses the comparison of healing through prayer and the placebo effect, which is limited in its impact; it often sees a reduction in pain but does not provide significant changes in organic conditions. She shares the results of studies on healing through prayer, and how proximal intercessory prayer, or proximal intercession, has been shown to result in substantial improvements. For example, a subject in Mozambique was able to read fine print on an eye chart after five minutes of prayer. This is a much larger improvement than most placebo effects or related mind-body effects. Scientific research shows that people are convinced that they are healed through prayer to such a degree that it has been a major factor in the growth of Pentecostal and charismatic Christian movements worldwide. This belief has been a major factor in the growth of these movements, with approximately 635 million Pentecostals and charismatics globally, and around 2.4 billion Christians.
Research on Intercessory Prayer
Candy talks about research that took place in Mozambique where they were conducting studies on distant intercessory prayer. She discusses the difficulties they encountered and surprising results when conducting studies with people from different branches of christianity. In one study, researchers prospectively recruited every individual who was brought up in communities with little technological connection. They tested them with equipment and recorded all results before and after prayer, regardless of whether they reported improvements or not. The effect had to be large enough and common enough to find an actual statistical difference. The study found statistically significant improvements in those who received prayer. Cindy goes on to explain that prayer is a growing force in areas with limited access to medical care and basic necessities. She mentions research that was conducted in collaboration with 17 other scholars in Pentecostal movements worldwide. The findings suggest that healing and deliverance practices are the driving growth edge for these movements, as people in need of medical care and food security often lack the resources and support they typically receive. This finding underscores the importance of further research in this area.
A Personal View on Proximal Prayer Healing
Candy discusses the impact of proximal prayer on healing. She has been researching this topic for 20 years and has come across cases of fraud and falsification, however, she believes that these cases are less common than people think. She also mentions cases where people believe they got healed through prayer but also have other factors that caused them to recover, such as self-limiting conditions or mobility issues. She allows people to evaluate the data from the studies for themselves and acknowledges that some cases are hard to come up with a medical explanation for what took place, and she shares a few stories of healing, including a blind woman whose sight was restored. One studies she cites states that 73% of U.S. doctors believed that miracle healing had taken place.
Alternative Medical Practices and Constitutional Implications
One of Candy’s research projects focused on alternative medical practices and constitutional implications. She was asked to evaluate the legal challenge over yoga in a public school district in San Diego, California. The yoga program was promoted by a Hindu guru who believed yoga was becoming one with God. However, parents, including Christian, Hindu, and atheist parents, were concerned about the teachings and wanted a secular education for their children. Candy’s book explores the global cross fertilization of yoga programs, from India to the United States. Candy shares results from various studies on yoga or mindfulness practices.
Influential Harvard Professors and Courses
Candy shares her fond memories of her time as a professor, including being invited to a professor’s house for dinner, attending a core curriculum class, and working with Owen Gingrich, a professor with a Mennonite background. These personal connections have been significant in her career, as she has been invited to his house for dinner parties and conducted research for him while traveling in the Philippines. Other memorable experiences include studying Latin 3, listening to Marjorie Garber’s Shakespeare lessons, learning about Michelangelo, and writing a senior thesis. She also had significant experiences through Phillips Brooks House, particularly working with the refugee youth summer enrichment program (RISE) and the Harvard Radcliffe Christian fellowship.
05:19 The power of prayer in healing with a neuroscientist and religion professor
10:44 The effectiveness of prayer for healing
16:07 Clinical trials and prayer with a focus on ecological validity
23:26 Healing and spiritual practices in Pentecostal movements
28:10 Healing and divine intervention through prayer
32:08 Yoga in public schools and belief in miracles
36:56 Secularization of yoga programs and their impact on mental health
Candy Gunther Brown, Will Bachman
Will Bachman 00:03
Hello, and welcome to the 92 report conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe class of 1992. I’m your host will Bachman. And I’m excited to be here today with candy Gunther Brown, who many of us knew in college as candy and Gunter candy. Welcome to the show.
Candy Gunther Brown 00:45
Thanks so much. Well, good to be here.
Will Bachman 00:48
So candy, tell me about your journey since graduating from Harvard?
Candy Gunther Brown 00:53
Oh, well, while I was at Harvard, I was very much a pre law student. And so I had every expectation of going to law school and I, I duly applied to schools and got accepted. But I just didn’t quite feel like I would enjoy the practice of law as much as I would enjoy law school itself. And so I ended up pursuing a PhD in the history of American civilization or American Studies. And the best place for me to do that was actually at Harvard. So I ended up sticking around for a number of years additionally, and didn’t actually leave until the year 2000. And then I went on and spent spent a year as a professor in the history department at Vanderbilt, I spent five years in the American Studies Department at St. Louis University. And then I moved to Bloomington, Indiana, to Indiana University where I’ve been a professor of religious studies ever since 2006.
Will Bachman 02:06
Amazing, can you tell us a bit about your area of focus within religious studies?
Candy Gunther Brown 02:12
Well, I study mostly Christianity in the United States, but then also globally. And as my studies have developed over the years, I’ve also looked more at the theme of healing in particular, which has taken me to look more kind of at global comparisons, and also at comparisons to other religious traditions and practices, such as those that stemmed from Hinduism and Buddhism. And so I really work on a variety of topics, most of which circle back in some way to Christianity, the United States and or healing practices.
Will Bachman 02:56
And you see a bit more about that about just pulled out from you what what does healing mean, in this context? Yeah. So
Candy Gunther Brown 03:04
when when I first started doing work on the history of Christianity, it was a very much a historical focus. But then I realized that a lot of the growth of Christianity, which is the world’s largest religious movement, was in areas of Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity, where people pray for God to heal them when they’re sick, whether that’s physically whether that’s emotionally or spiritually. And so I realized that I needed to really kind of look at kinds of questions that I hadn’t considered before. For instance, what is modern medicine have to say about the effects of of praying for healing, and especially when you start to look at contemporary practices? I mean, this is an empirically testable question. When someone claims that they were sick, and someone prayed for them, and they recovered, what do the medical records have to say about that? And so this took me into looking at, well, really traveling globally. So for instance, I’ve done field work in Mozambique and in Brazil. I’ve collaborated with medical doctors and with research scientists on developing clinical studies where we, for instance, tested people’s hearing and vision thresholds before and after prayer. And we actually found statistically significant improvements in those conditions and publish the findings in a peer reviewed medical journal. And, and then as I was interviewing some of these Christians about their experiences, they started volunteering, that they loved their chiropractor Doctors and that got me into looking at this whole world of complementary and alternative medicine, which has become a lot more mainstream medically than some of the prayer practices. And so really kind of academically, my research has taken on very different emphases over the years. I mean, I’ve even ended up as an expert witness in court cases over yoga in public education. But but all of these, like there’s an academic line of trajectory. And really one that I didn’t predict, except that in some ways, that pre law interests that I had early on, really kind of circled back to be very useful. And I mean, one of the things I know you’ll ask me about later is about courses at Harvard that have continued to be useful. I mean, one of the, the best courses I took was in constitutional law at the law school while an undergraduate, and that that was incredibly useful for me when I started to think about constitutional issues involved potentially, with yoga and meditation and public schools and ways that those can actually be issues from a legal perspective, in the same way that prayer and Bible reading can be in the schools. And so that’s been one line of kind of research direction that I didn’t expect. But there was also a kind of a personal dimension to how that study switched as well. And that kind of goes back to getting married to someone I met while I was in, still at Harvard in graduate school, and, and having some, some things happen in our lives that really kind of opened up some new academic as well as personal questions.
Will Bachman 06:48
Okay, so we don’t pry here on the show, but we do give people an opportunity to go in a direction if they want, is that is that an area you want to want to get into? Sure,
Candy Gunther Brown 06:59
up until about a year ago, I probably wouldn’t have but I’ve been Freer about kind of sharing some of the backstory over the last months. And, and basically, it’s this I when I got married in 1998. And so now we just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, which will give you a little bit of a kind of break to the end of the story kind of thing. But in 2003, our lives were really quite interrupted. So at that point, we were both in St. Louis, Missouri, and my husband, Josh was a research scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, in neuroscience. So he’s basically a brain scientist. And in the middle of one night, when I was nine months pregnant with our first daughter, who, incidentally, is a junior at Harvard now, but I was pregnant with her. And he had a seizure in the middle of the night, he was diagnosed with an untreatable terminal brain tumor. And as a brain scientist, he knew just how bad it was, and medically there was nothing that could be done for him. And so we started to ask, are people actually healed through prayer, and that that really kind of changed the course of our lives over the last two decades. So now that the I’ve kind of given away the ending of the story, he did, indeed recover without any medical treatment, and not because we were remotely anti medical, we weren’t, we would have done anything that that could have been done. But surgery, radiation, chemo, none of those are even effective for what he had. And so we really kind of went on a journey, and he recovered completely, and he is, and he is healthy, and to this day, and we actually, together founded the Global Medical Research Institute, or gmri, which is committed to rigorous scientific investigations of the empirical effects of of prayer for healing. And so both of us have had our research really kind of take on new directions through really a quite intense personal experience.
Will Bachman 09:26
So some of the screenwriters I’ve had on the show, might say that that is like a little bit too on the nose, where a brain scientist gets a brain tumor. And exactly like a Professor of Religion decides to investigate, like the power of prayer.
Candy Gunther Brown 09:43
It was a very ironic core sort of set of circumstances. And I mean, I we thought that our fields really didn’t overlap with each other very well at all. I mean, that was one of our questions when we were thinking about getting married was, are we He kind of similar enough in terms of what we work on. Well, they it’s all kind of worked out. And we actually have have been able to collaborate with each other very effectively over the years.
Will Bachman 10:12
Okay, so talk to me about what the science and by the way, amazing. Congratulations, that’s such a wonderful story. Tell me a bit about what your research and the science does say about the power of prayer and healing. And how do you how have you separated that out from the placebo effect, which, in a situation, like in a type of therapy, like this, I would imagine could be quite an important factor, right? Yeah,
Candy Gunther Brown 10:44
well, let’s start off with the placebo effect. And so research studies on placebo, really show that it’s relatively limited in what you can get, like, yes, there are mind body interactions definitely. And a lot of sickness has to do with kind of the state of your, your emotions and your thoughts. But generally, what you get from a placebo is reduction in pain, you don’t get major changes in organic conditions. And so for instance, when we were doing research on hearing and vision with portee, portable audiometry, equipment and vision charts and statistical analysis, we were able to compare our findings for, for prayer with studies of hypnosis and suggestion on those same conditions, because there’s actually quite a literature on that. And generally, what you find with trying to see better or convincing someone that they’re seeing better or hearing, it’s the same thing is you’ll get the improvement of just a little bit less than one line on a standard I chart. So you get some improvement, but it’s not a very large improvement. But what we found with what I’ve termed proximal intercessory prayer is, is, in some cases, quite substantial improvements. And so I mean, I’ll give you an example of one of the subjects that we tested in Mozambique, she went from being unable to count the number of fingers that someone was holding up a foot away to being able to read relatively fine print on an eye chart after prayers of about five minutes. That’s a much larger improvement than what you see from from most kinds of placebo effects or other kinds of related Mind Body effects. And so for instance, there’s another effect called the Hawthorne effect from the name of a company where it was studied, where, even just by studying someone, they’re going to have some improvements. So it ends up being a matter of degrees generally. And so I don’t discount that there’s some kind of just kind of emotional kind of benefit from people having hopefully gentle loving interactions with someone praying for them. That’s not always the case. But generally people feel cared for they feel listened to, there is some just very natural element in what takes place. And I think really, the empirical question is, is that enough of an explanation for what’s taking place? And I think it’s really still alive research question there just honestly hasn’t done enough kind of high quality, well controlled research, to be able to come up with definitive conclusions on what accounts for recoveries. And so one of the things that the Global Medical Research Institute is doing is starting a process of more clinical studies. So for instance, there’s a study ongoing now at the University of Maryland for anxiety and pain and really trying to assess like, what are the changes if there are changes that result for people who have had prayer, whether it’s in person or whether it’s over zoom? For, for example, and so I think really more research needs to be done. What what sociological research shows, which is another kind of wing of this is that regardless of what the causal mechanism might be, and even really regardless of whether medical science would concur that a healing has occurred. In terms of people’s experiences, people are convinced that they are healed through prayer to such a degree, that this has been a major factor in the really quite dramatic growth of Pentecostal and charismatic Christian movements around the globe to the stent that there’s probably like 635 million Pentecostals and charismatics, globally, out of the world, like 2.4 billion Christians. So this is the largest Christianity is larger than any other religious movement. And it’s growing largely because of experiences of people getting prayer for healing and believing that they recover. And if you want to even push things into a more kind of hard for our kind of Western medical mindset to get our kind of our minds around is experiences of people feeling like they’re attacked by demons or evil spirits, and having prayer for deliverance or exorcism. And believing those prayers to be effective, that two ends up being just a really significant factor in the growth of religious movements that emphasize healing. And that’s true for movements apart from Christianity, but Christianity is one of the the fastest growing and where, where healing can be the largest emphasis.
Will Bachman 16:07
Talk to me about how you set up these clinical trials. And I’d love to hear, you know, how do you select the people? How do you have a control group? Walk me through that, like in the Mozambique or Brazil? Yeah,
Candy Gunther Brown 16:21
sure. So I mean, a lot of the research before, what we were really doing was on what was called distant intercessory. Prayer. And they are in a sense, that’s very easy to set up in a controlled manner, because you just have one group that receives prayer, another group that doesn’t, it can even be in a kind of group of two sets of heart disease patients in a hospital, for instance. And then you get people to pray at a distance by the first name of the person with the condition. And you evaluate well, who kind of did better in the control group or the other group and, and the best publicized study of this sort was led by Herbert Benson, who was at the time at Harvard, in 2006. And his finding was actually that getting prayer, people didn’t know better, but if they knew that they were being prayed for they actually fared worse. And the reasoning that he came to was as heart patients being anxious that you’re in such bad shape that you need, prayer just made you more anxious. So he wasn’t necessarily saying that prayer was bad for your health. But he was saying that it wasn’t good for your health. Now, that was an interesting study, because of who he ended up recruiting as the intercessors are the people doing the praying in the study, and none of them were really the types of Pentecostal and charismatic Christians that I’ve just been referencing as the group’s growing most rapidly, he had a group of Protestant Christians who belong to the unity School of Christianity, and that particular group doesn’t actually believe that there is any sort of deity outside of the self, really, for them. Prayer is just, you think positively and you speak positively. And so their leaders actually said petitionary, prayer is useless, and we don’t expect a miracle. So that’s kind of that raises problems of like, What are you even studying? And you might talk about that as a problem of construct validity. Are you even studying the same thing, and his Catholic intercessors had a different problem is they belong to particular orders of Catholicism were their goal was to try and identify with suffering, and for them the suffering of Jesus, and basically, like, try and grow spiritually by by suffering more, so they weren’t necessarily praying for healing. So again, it’s a problem construct validity. But then the other problem that you run into with distant prayer is one of ecological validity. Is this how people actually pray in the real world when they expect prayers to be answered? And the answer is not so much like you will get kind of Christians who believe in prayer for healing, who will like have like a, an email prayer list, or something like that. But generally, they don’t have a very high expectation that that’s where the healing is going to take place. So really, most of the way people really pray in real life is what I call proximal intercessory prayer. And that’s people getting up close in person, there’s often an emotional element, hugging touch, it gets messy, and this is where you asked a very good question at the outset about placebo effect is it is actually really difficult to do this as a clean sort of study. It’s not like you take an aspirin in taking prayer as as a treatment. Now, I think that there there there are ways to you to study prayer. And so one of the ways and is to set up a waitlist control group. And this is what we’re doing with the study in with the University of Maryland where you’ve got one group of people who gets, so you, you still have groups, right. And so you give the prayer treatment to one group immediately. And then if they want to get prayer later they can do it. And that it’s important to have that sort of waitlist, so that just for ethical kind of human research reasons, you don’t deprive someone of an intervention that they would want to have. And that’s also why it’s difficult to come up with a control group where you say, well, let’s just do a different kind of intervention. Because for a lot of people, religion is a really serious thing for them. And so you don’t offer someone Hindu prayer when they asked for Christian prayer, or vice versa, because that gets into really tricky, ethical situations. And so what we ended up doing with with, with the Mozambique study, which was appropriate for the kind of initial study of this type, was we simply add, we started with the question of, Do people who have prayer improve? And so there, we weren’t kind of having two groups kind of head to head. But we were saying, Does it even make a difference? And so we prospectively recruited every single individual who was kind of brought up so I mean, the the way this happens in the Mozambican context, and with the particular group that we were studying, is you would have communities of people who had known each other their entire lives. And they they lived in essentially these mud hut villages with very little technological connection, if any at all. And so this group comes in, and they offer for prayer. And they they start off by asking, Do you have anyone here, who and their language is blind and deaf, you might say severely, visually, or kind of hearing impaired, because it’s probably not a kind of absolute kind of standards of blindness and deafness. But basically, the community brings up everyone they know, and they know, these aren’t plants, because they’ve known them their whole lives. And so every single person who was brought up by the community, we tested them with our equipment and recorded all of the results before and after prayer, regardless of whether they reported improvements, or whether the the ministry group, we were studying impro, did reported improvements, everything got included. And then we did a statistical analysis. And and basically, you’ve got the the effect has to be large enough. And it has to be common enough in order to find whether there’s an actual statistical difference in this. And that’s where we did find statistically significant improvements for those who received prayer. Now, I think it would be great to do follow up studies where you did have medical trucks on site with all of the kind of testing equipment. That’s a very expensive endeavor. And I just didn’t have the funding to do that at the time. But this is where kind of increasingly as we do more studies and more research, that is the the standard of study that we’re looking to develop more of, because the initial findings that we’ve had have been promising enough that it does warrant further research.
Will Bachman 23:46
Wow, interesting. And how did you find people that hadn’t been prayed for before? Like, if I’m in one of these villages, and I was blind, like, Wouldn’t an immune it’s like this tight knit thing? Wouldn’t you already have asked someone Hey, come and pray for me for my blindness?
Candy Gunther Brown 24:03
Oh, well, except that these were not communities that had any contact with Christian prayer previously. And so generally, they had had some kind of kind of treatment from the folk medical practices in their areas, but they hadn’t been effective. And so the the Christian prayer was novel, having spiritual treatments alongside of whatever kinds of herbal remedies they they could muster. That was commonplace, but these were areas where there just really wasn’t much and in terms of medical kind of capabilities, there weren’t hospitals in these areas. Even the group that we were studying. They tried to run medical clinics and all they really had the resources for for the most part with some D warming tablets, and so Prayer was really kind of the, the resort of not having other options. But the reason they hadn’t already gotten prayer before was there, there weren’t people there that they had met who would do this kind of intervention.
Will Bachman 25:13
Interesting. And tell me a bit about, you know, the, like, the growth of these Pentecostal groups with, it seems like healing is a big driver, which is fascinating to me, I guess that wasn’t really on my mental map so much as I would have thought people are looking for, you know, spiritual solace, and so forth. And they were they, you know, buy into the story of original sin or something, but it sounds like now this practical here now. Oh, you know, this is pretty good. It’s like, you know, good medical care. Yeah. Right. Yeah. It seems like it’s a big driver. Ya
Candy Gunther Brown 25:50
know, it’s very practical. I mean, these are not kind of intellectual kinds of debates, for the most part. And I mean, there are spirit, most of the world has a much livelier sense of spiritual interactions with the material world. And in the areas where these movements are growing, they tend to be areas where there’s a lot more kind of just poverty, a lot less access to medical care, and a lot of just kind of practical, everyday needs. And so in the United States, and I mean, this was actually a challenge and doing research is when we wanted to study kind of people with hearing and visual impairments in the US, well, if you’ve got visual impairments, you wear glasses, I wear glasses, or if you’ve got severe hearing problems, you may you may choose to have hearing aids or, or you may choose not to, but that but it’s something that you can choose in the US. But that’s not really kind of an option in in a lot of the world. So I mean, it’s not the case that there aren’t other reasons that Christianity is growing, but but really the the main reason in my research, and I mean, one of the research projects I did was a collaboration with 17 other scholars who are experts in Pentecostal movements in different regions of the world and, and almost to a one the conclusion was, yeah, it’s healing and deliverance practices are really the driving growth edge for these movements. And it is people are in need, they don’t have the kind of medical care or even the kind of food security that we tend to take for granted in in the US.
Will Bachman 27:40
And what what’s your intuition into, you know, the the effects of proximal greyer on healing is, is the research and your own personal experience leading you to leave that yes, there is a there is an impact or you’re still sort of not quite sure. Like what’s where’s your head at?
Candy Gunther Brown 28:04
Yeah, well, I mean, I think it’s it’s important that it’s not an all or nothing. There. I’ve been doing research on this for 20 years now. And I have come across cases of out and out fraud and falsification. Not many, I mean, I think we if anyone who’s kind of old enough to have watched the Steve Martin leap of faith, which I think came out the year we all graduated, then, I mean, this this was based on a real story of a healing evangelist, Peter Popoff, who put like earpieces in, and his wife would like feed him information about people who came in and he would say, Oh, I’m hearing from God, you’re, you’re gonna get healed, you should give me money. Right? There are instances like that. My sense is those are actually less common than people think. And I mean, this is a psychological phenomenon known as the availability heuristic, that something that kind of like is so striking and disturbing is someone being fraudulent about this, you kind of think about that and think it’s more common than it actually is. So, so I have come across cases of fraud. I’ve definitely come across cases where people conclude that they got healed through prayer, but they also had like 20 Other things that they did, and it could have been any one of those things that caused them to recover. Or there are self limiting conditions where like a lot of times, like issues of mobility and pain, you’re gonna get better anyway, regardless of whether you pray you pray, and so there can be cases of confusing causation and correlation. But on the whole, I have also come across cases where where people are improving and career seems to make a difference now, to what degree is that divine intervention and to what degree is that just another factor? cuz, I mean, I think I let people kind of evaluate the data for themselves on that question. Some of the cases that we’ve looked at, it’s really hard to come up with a medical explanation for what took place. And I mean, so a couple of the case studies published in medical journals through gmri are a case of a woman who was blind in the US fully documented case, she was blind for 12 years, and had all kinds of medical tests. And within an instant, her husband prayed for her one night, and she could see and, and her sight has been improved for 47 years. There’s no good medical explanation for what what happened there. Or another one of these case reports an infant was diagnosed with gastroparesis, which is like a paralyzed stomach. At age two weeks, and 16 years, he was on tube feeding, he gets prayer has an intense experience, he’s able to eat, they remove the the feeding tubes, that article gets published, like seven years afterwards, again, it’s really hard to come up with a medical explanation for what’s taking place. So I believe that the best explanation for what happened with with Josh, my own husband is I believe he was healed by Jesus, honestly. And do I have kind of like, absolutely airtight proof, I’ve got a series of MRIs that show first, a high level of confidence from the, from the doctors that this was a tumor, and it was not treatable. And and the series kind of tracks through so that you go from that to it’s as bad as ever to well, it’s looks, it’s not growing, and we would have expected it to to well, maybe it looks a little bit smaller, to it scar tissue it looks like or just stopping to use the word tumor. So there still is an element of interpretation and element of belief. But I’m certainly grateful that I have been married for 25 years, and that I now have two grown daughters, both of them in, in college who were able to have two parents as they as they grew up. So but but these experiences of prayer, I don’t think you can just write them off as credulousness. There are a lot of highly educated people, including plenty of Harvard graduates and even faculty who who have been convinced that the the evidence is pretty solid. And I mean, actually, there was a study of US medical doctors done a few years ago, where the majority of doctors and in fact, 73% of them said they believed that miracles of healing happened today, more than half of them actually believed they’d witnessed it. So I don’t think you can write it off as just this is something people who don’t have education, believe in. But But I think, especially as we’re all aging, none of us are kind of in our 20s anymore, unless we had some really young classmates I don’t know about. But generally we’re aging, we realize that we’ve got more health issues in our lives. And modern medicine is good as it is and as thankful as I am for it. It can’t fix everything. I think more and more especially older people start to to ask, Is there is there more than then what medical science can offer? And a lot of people and I’m included in that number are concluding that thankfully there there is hope, even when medical science has reached its limits.
Will Bachman 34:12
I’m curious about something you mentioned earlier about the yoga and the public schools thing. Yeah. Tell us about that. Well, so
Candy Gunther Brown 34:22
this was really just a small part of one of my research projects where I was looking at a variety of different alternative medical practices and starting to think about the constitutional implications. And in that process, I was actually on sabbatical at Oxford at the time. I had some some colleagues who pointed me to this developing legal challenge over yoga in a public school district in San Diego, California. And so I was asked to evaluate the, the documents of the case and and I actually I ended up just becoming fascinated by how much of a story there was that ended up being like another six years doing research on that book project. Because basically, with that, that yoga program, there was a Hindu guru by the name of patottie. Joyce, who understood yoga as becoming one with God, even if it’s just the physical postures, and he gave a financial grant to, or rather kind of the foundation that was founded in his honor by Paul and Sonia Tudor Jones gave a financial grant of half a million dollars to the school district for for promoting this yoga program. And there were parents who were concerned about kind of some of the teachings of this guru who was teaching that well, this is the goal of this Ashtanga or eight limb yoga, eventually, it’s in the eighth limb, which is Samadhi, which Joyce defined as becoming one with God. And it was partly Christian parents, but it was also Hindu parents and atheist parents who, who wanted to have a secular education for their children, and didn’t want to be required to be to require to be doing yoga as a part of the school day. And so I ended up looking not only at the program in this school, but really at programs all over the United States and around the world. I actually, just this week, got an email from someone in Ethiopia, who wrote to say that a book I had written about this was useful to him in talking with people about programs in schools in Ethiopia, where they had started to kind of like, here’s where you really see global cross fertilization, where for practices go from India, to the United States to Ethiopia, with a few stops along the way. But but it really kind of looking at what what are some of the like, what does it mean for something to be secularized? And what are the goals of the promoters of programs and in the case of this particular yoga program, it was actually an evangelistic goal, the guru, and the foundation wanted children to have transformative spiritual experiences from the yoga and so the teachers may have had just, and I think most of them did just have various kinds of secular health and wellness kinds of objectives. But they ended up partnering with groups who very much had religious agendas. And here, I mean, actually, the scientific research is pretty interesting on a couple of levels, because there’s one set of research that shows that the longer that people practice something like yoga, or mindfulness meditation, even in these very kind of nominally secular variants, the more likely they are to have spiritual experiences, to change religious affiliations, and really have kind of these like, transformed transformational spiritual religious experiences. But then on the other hand, there’s been a lot of hype about the value of these practices, which is actually the hype is bigger than than what the data supports. And so, for instance, you might, and there’s been research on both kids and adults for meditation and mindfulness, where the subjects will report that they are less stressed after doing mindfulness, but their blood cortisol levels are actually consistent with higher stress. And one of the largest scale studies done in the UK, actually found that that kind of doing the yoga and meditation practices as universal intervention for all kids is contraindicated, because kids who come in with mental health challenges can actually be re traumatized and more anxious and more depressed and even more suicidal from doing those practices. And so there are constitutional issues. But there also are really counterintuitive health issues that come from doing the research on these practices. And I would have had no idea if I if I hadn’t been asked to evaluate this curriculum.
Will Bachman 39:21
Oh, what a story. I want to turn to the segment where I would actually love to keep exploring this if we had done but I want to turn to the segment. were asked about any courses or professors or activities at Harvard that continued to resonate with you. Yeah,
Candy Gunther Brown 39:38
I mean, I was thinking about this. And I mean, there were there were actually a lot. I mean, I have a lot of very fond memories, and probably in terms of practices like how is what I do as a professor different. One of the most influential experiences I had was just being invited over to a professor’s house for dinner. And it was a class So I’m Vietnamese history, I don’t even remember the professor’s name, I’m sorry to say, but just being invited to her house was really meaningful. And so I’ve been inviting students to my house for dinner for the last, like 24 years or so almost every single class has come over for a dinner party. Because I was inspired by that. And I had another professor again from another core curriculum class on the astronomical perspective. And I do remember that was Owen Gingrich, who invited me to his house for dinner and even took me to his little Mennonite church because we both had Mennonite backgrounds. And I ended up doing some research for him when I was traveling in the Philippines. And so again, that personal connection, I think, from from professors was really meaningful. And I mean, then there were just lots of other fun things like studying Latin three, kind of in office hours. Listening to Marjorie Garber gives Shakespeare lessons that were just as good as going to the theater and Sanders in Sanders Theater. Learning about Michelangelo, learning about kind of intuitive learning, like, a lot of the classes that were most memorable were actually like core curriculum, which is, like if they were great experiences, writing a senior thesis was a great experience as well. In terms of activities, I ended up doing some things through Phillips Brooks House that were very significant. And the the program there that was most meaningful was working with the refugee youth summer enrichment or RISE program. And so for multiple summers, I worked with these Vietnamese high school kids, and then continued working with them in the term. And we went camping together, they cooked dinner for me, just really got to have wonderful interactions with them. The Harvard Radcliffe Christian fellowship was a significant source of community. And I’m still friends with people from that group, both from my year and from other years. And in fact, one of the one of the 92 graduates, Ming Wei Nagasawa. Her her daughter is now blocked meets with with my daughter. So that’s a fun kind of connection. Ah, so lots of very fond memories.
Will Bachman 42:33
Amazing candy for people who are interested to find out more about your institute and your research, where would you point them online.
Candy Gunther Brown 42:42
So if you just Google Global Medical Research Institute or global mri.org, you can find more on the research or you can just look at my university website. So if you go to Indiana University, Department of Religious Studies, you can find my faculty page. So it’s candy Gunther Brown, I’m on Facebook and LinkedIn and and Twitter’s and I’m pretty easy to Google. So feel free to look me up. Feel free to reach out to me if you’re interested in any of these topics. I’d be happy to chat. Amazing
Will Bachman 43:20
candy. Thank you so much for joining today.
Candy Gunther Brown 43:23
Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a fun conversation.