Creed and Crisis: American Religious Responses to Polio

Acors, Brittany, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Hedstrom, Matthew, Religious Studies, University of Virginia

This dissertation explores the role religion played in the fight against polio and individual and societal understandings of disease and disability. Relying upon the voices of polio survivors themselves through their memoirs, contextualized within the religious, medical, and cultural milieu of the first half of the twentieth century, this project explores the way creeds—systems of religious belief or faith—shaped responses to a crisis. This work also argues that this was not a one-way course, but that the polio epidemics shaped religious beliefs and practices in return for many individuals and communities who experienced polio across the first half of the twentieth century in the United States. The project amplifies marginalized voices in the history of polio by featuring the stories of people of color who survived polio, of women who provided physical therapy and home care throughout the recovery process, and of the everyday people who fund-raised for polio research. Finally, this dissertation explores the way storytelling—and religious narratives in particular—shaped both identity formation and health decision making in this era of U.S. history.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
polio, American religious history, disability studies, history of medicine, science and religion, American studies
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