Faculty Advisor

Elizabeth Swedo


During the outbreak of the Black Death in the fourteenth century, medieval medical theories were tested. With an unknown disease wiping out populations globally, physicians sought to explain and combat the plague through religion and medicine. Scholars have recognized disparities in medical responses across cultures in relation to religion, without exploring the root theological cause of these differences. My research focuses on variances between Christian and Muslim physicians’ reasons for the disease by examining the religious doctrine, namely the Qur’an, the Hadith literature, and the Bible along with medical treatises, plague tracts, and first-hand accounts of the plague from the fourteenth century. Through analysis of these sources, some of the major differences that come to light are the presence of plague in religious literature, the significance and practice of prayer in religion, and finally, the rejection and acceptance of the theory of contagion. Most importantly, however, each of these differences can be tied back to the notions of sin and salvation that existed in both religions. This underlying similarity suggests although the basis of medical knowledge in Muslim and Christian society came from classical Greece and Rome, use of that knowledge differed, signifying that it was each religion’s concepts of sin and salvation that varied the medical response. Ultimately, this research helps to clarify the religious influences on medicine during the medieval era and shows the progression of the medical field from classical antiquity to the fourteenth century across the religions of Islam and Christianity.

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