As an interdisciplinary minor, medical humanities, society and ethics (MHSE) teaches students to use methods from the humanities and social sciences to examine issues related to illness, health, healthcare, the body and the mind in their social, cultural and historical contexts.
MHSE takes as its starting point the dual claim that the central human experiences of health and illness as well as the systems of knowledge that have emerged to classify them are culturally shaped phenomena. Bodies and minds experience illness; people suffer; they age; they die. But the meanings people attach to these processes are not givens in the natural world. They are rather forged within a particular society’s attitudes, values, beliefs and practices expressed through language, behavior, ritual and art. They are, moreover, contingent on time and place. Even the modern scientific discipline of medicine, its truth claims, and its terms are embedded in historical cultural domains. They have as much to do with attitudes to gender, race, socioeconomic status, relations of power, structures of authority and social hierarchies as they do with biology.
MHSE aims to bridge the gulf that exists between science and experience, biology and culture by challenging students to examine critically the origins and nature of their beliefs and values about illness and health as well as the beliefs and values embedded in their society’s social, cultural, educational, legal and political institutions.
MHSE students will learn that humanistic interpretive practices make cross-cultural and comparative studies of health and illness possible. The minor encourages students to take a broad community and global perspective on experiences of health and illness that address equity, policy and resource allocation.