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Department of Religious Studies

Spiritual Healing in Japan and Switzerland

Project Lead

Prof. Dr. Dorothea Lüddeckens, University of Zürich

Prof. Dr. Monika Schrimpf, University of Tübingen

Project Staff

Eri Itō, Hokkaidō Universität in Sapporo, Japan

Yurina Hayashi, Hokkaidō Universität in Sapporo, Japan

Tomoko Schlüter, Hokkaidō Universität in Sapporo, Japan

Selina Bloch, Universität Zürich, Schweiz

Anne-Christine Halter, Universität Zürich, Schweiz

Project Description

Spiritual Healing, referred to as “Geistheilung” or “spirituelles Heilen” in Switzerland and “supirichuaru hīringu” スピリチュアル・ヒーリング in Japan, is a healing method that falls into the category of “alternative medicine.” Both its supply and demand seem to have increased over the past twenty years.

In Japan and Switzerland, it is notably common for spiritual healing to be practised by women. Within both countries, the practice generally takes place outside of the state-sponsored healthcare systems and is largely shaped by recent religious and ideological movements and influences.

The range of concepts of health, illness, and healing backed by spiritual healers is rather wide. They work with “spiritual forces,” viewing and experiencing their abilities in a special relationship to the spiritual world, energies and/or the universe. These are abilities and insights that complement the scientific worldview or offer an alternative to it.

The Aim of the Project is to better understand the perspectives, interpretations, and experiences of spiritual healers with regard to gender-specific aspects, and with regard to the soial and medical situation caused by COVID-19. For this purpose, semi-structured interviews with healers from both countries have been conducted, transcribed, and analysed since 2021.

Initial interim results already show the diversity within the countries, and context-specific differences between Japan and Switzerland, but also overlapping narratives, patterns of interpretation, and accounts of experiences. One contextual difference, for example, lies in the very different degree to which a critical gender discourse is diffused in Swiss and Japanese society respectively.

In the conversations in both countries, semantics and narratives were strongly influenced by a popular scientific psychotherapeutic discourse. "Feeling", "emotions" and "intuition" play a crucial role for the women healers. Another similarity is that almost all of them have acquired and practise many different healing methods. From the healers' point of view, however, it is not primarily a certain "technique" that matters, but they themselves, as a person with personal abilities and their respective individual relationship with their clients. Great importance is attached to emphasising that the clients themselves must take responsibility for their healing and inner development. 

Whereas in the Swiss conversations, almost all healers talked about the "fear" and "anxieties" of their clients, in the Japanese conversations the women pointed out that when they are clients themselves, they can speak differently with men and women, and much more bluntly and directly with men than with women.

A commonality becoming more and more apparent is the diversity witnessed among representatives of the scene not only regarding their spiritual concepts and practices, but also considering their attitudes towards COVID-19. While some of them are sceptical of measures such as vaccination based on their alternative medical worldview, others are very much in favour of it. In the Swiss context, reference is often made to the right of self-determination; in both countries, those healers who do not wish to be vaccinated mainly trust in their personal resilience.