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Centre for Uses of Literature

Narrative Medicine

By “narrative medicine” we mean health care practiced with narrative skills of recognizing, absorbing, interpreting, and being moved by the stories of illness. The field is defined by Dr. Rita Charon, Columbia University, and established at SDU since 2017. Narrative medicine aims for a deep integration of humanities (including psychology, anthropology and social science) and the arts in medical and healthcare education as well as research interventions. This cross-disciplinary field is committed to the realization that a portion of the evidence in evidence-based medicine will be found not in numbers but in language and stories. Generally biomedical sciences are interested in the generalities, whereas narrative medicine privileges particular individual narratives and attends to the meaning that the singular storyteller develops. A narrative competence for health professionals – and narrative empowerment for patients/relatives/citizens – can be built through facilitated training in reading of literary texts and writing of participants’ own stories.

Narrative medicine in education and interventions at SDU is closely related to Rita Felski's idea of literature as an instrument to reflect, and enhance the importance of, modes of existence like recognition, identification, enchantment, knowledge, etc. We challenge the dominant, traditional ideology that literary studies should never be instrumentalized, and that art ought to be studied only for its own purpose. Rita Felski has been an important voice in recent years, provoking scholars in the old humanities by arguing that recognition and even identification are important aspects of reading also on an academic level. We do not believe that our view on literature would be simplified if we spoke more freely of how reading and writing could benefit the singular person in education across faculties and in the society at large.

Narrative medicine as a truly interdisciplinary field demands that the health sciences become more open to qualitative research and respect it as a method of equal valueand that literary studies acknowledge the many potential health-related uses of literature in terms of well-being, empathy, growth, social inclusion, meaning of life etc. “Treating the whole person” is an approach gaining more and more traction in medicine, and narrative medicine is one way to reach that goal. At the same time, we are looking for new ways to establish a “criticism for the whole person” in literary studies. 



Anne-Marie Mai 

Anita Wohlmann
Camilla Schwartz

Marie-Elisabeth Lei Pihl 

Last Updated 21.02.2024