Body, soul, and bible : a religious history of nineteenth-century physiological reform.




Riddle, Jonathan D.

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The nineteenth-century American physiological reform movement was deeply religious. While historians have noted the moral or religious imperatives intermingled with reformers’ dietary recommendations, few have examined why and how a movement to reform the body became religious and how that religious impulse manifested itself. This thesis therefore offers a close examination of the religious aspects of physiological reform, arguing first that a holistic or sympathetic theological anthropology undergirded the sacralization of bodily regimen. Second, this thesis demonstrates that physiological reformers relied on the Bible to promote their movement and that the Bible’s dietary teachings were a substantial point of conflict between the reformers and other Americans. Finally, this thesis analyzes the reformers’ hermeneutic, arguing that they read the Bible through the lens of physiology. They therefore clashed with the commonsense literalism with which their contemporaries read the Bible—a hermeneutical conflict the physiological reformers failed to win.