Early last month (March 2020), Brill Academic Publishers released Global Healing: Literature, Advocacy, Care by Professor Karen L. Thornber, Harry Tuchman Levin Professor in Literature and Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University. An incredibly timely book, Global Healing analyzes narratives from around the world and in dozens of languages that advocate for compassionate approaches to disease, and the importance of literature in shaping our understanding of illness and healing.
In an interview published on Brill’s website, conducted on March 9, 2020, Thornber discusses how some of the issues discussed in her book have surfaced in global responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. She spoke particularly of stigmatization: “Prejudicial attitudes and discriminatory behaviors surrounding certain diseases cause even greater anguish than the physical symptoms of these diseases themselves. We are already seeing this with COVID-19, in China, Italy, and other parts of the world, where individuals who have had the disease or who are from places with high rates of COVID-19 are facing a strong backlash.” Indeed, the number of hate crimes against individuals of Asian and Pacific Islander descent have surged worldwide, necessitating the creation of dedicated incident reporting outlets such as Stop AAPI Hate.
Global Healing utilizes literature from diverse cultures to expose structural inequalities in our healthcare systems and the neglect of chronic illness sufferers’ emotional wellbeing, and it promotes quality healthcare as a human right. In addition, Thornber discusses how individuals and communities can combat stigma and the effects of structural violence. According to Thornber, one of the most important takeaways of her research is “the importance of moderating assumptions within families, communities, and societies regarding the ‘right’ ways to live and die and not imposing our own expectations on others.”
Thornber closed out the interview by saying: “We have made remarkable strides in conquering diseases, and there is much to celebrate. But global literature reveals the tremendous work that remains, with advocacy, care, and ultimately global healing among our greatest challenges.”
Global Healing: Literature, Advocacy, Care is currently available via free download from Brill’s website.