Dr. Linda Barnes

Dr. Linda Barnes is a professor of Family Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and teaches in the Division of Religious and Theological Studies in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Boston University. In 2000, she founded of the Boston Healing Landscape Project, an initiative that seeks to explore the ways in which the “therapeutic landscape” of America has changed with the country’s increased religious diversity. The Boston Healing Landscape Project was integral to the curricular development of the Masters Program in Medical Anthropology and Cross-Cultural Practice through Boston University’s Division of Graduate Medical Sciences, which Dr. Barnes founded in 2007 with Dr. Lance Laird. Dr. Barnes writes of the Boston Healing Landscape Project:

Inspired by the Pluralism Project developed by Diana L. Eck at Harvard University to study and document the growing religious diversity of the United States, the Boston Healing Landscape Project, located in the Department of Pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine, represents a complementary sister initiative to examine how, over the past thirty years, the medical landscape of the U.S. has changed in equally radical ways. This new landscape comprises the culturally diverse versions of religiously grounded approaches to healing now represented in our own cities and neighborhoods. The Project’s initial focus was on the African DiasporaA Greek word first used in the Hellenistic period, Diaspora refers to the “dispersion” of Jewish communities living in countries other than Israel. Today, the term Diaspora is also used to describe other religious communities, living apart from their ... communities of Boston. These groups include African immigrant, African American, Afro-Caribbean, and Brazilian families. The Project has since expanded to address the other cultural communities in Boston.

A richly textured world of healing now confronts the medical community with the critical challenge of shaping a positive response to the multiple approaches to religiously-based, complementary and alternative therapies being pursued by their patients. Through a collaborative effort between Boston University School of Medicine and Harvard University, the Boston Healing Landscape Project documented some of these changes by beginning to map the new demography of religiously-rooted approaches to healing in African Diaspora groups, with Boston as its field site. Using race, gender, culture, and class as primary categories of analysis, our goal will be to foreground the religious realities and related approaches to healing that have generally been marginal not only within the broader religious traditions but also within the biomedical community. The Project also studied how many of these traditions are changing, as they take root in American soil and develop in a new context, and explores how their presence is transforming our understanding of medicine and healing in the United States.

What is being learned from the Project is being integrated into medical education across the curriculum at Boston University School of Medicine, with the objective of beginning a process of transforming physician self-understanding and the patient-doctor relationship. We will also explore possibilities for a parallel integration at Harvard Medical School. This work represents the unprecedented introduction of a highly focused approach to the study of world religions into the training of physicians. The data has also be disseminated to broader public arenas through a website, reports to the communities being studied, national conferences, and published work, where it has reached scholars of religion, medical anthropology, and public health.

Selected Links and Publications