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When the Physician Becomes an Apostle

The Persona of the Catholic Colonial Doctor in Interwar Belgium and the Belgian Congo

In: Social Sciences and Missions
Authors:
Maarten Langhendries KU Leuven Belgium Leuven

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Kaat Wils KU Leuven Belgium Leuven

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Abstract

Missionary medicine, especially healthcare offered by Catholic missions, is a rather neglected field in the study of colonial medicine. In addition, the potential of analytical tools such as the circulation of knowledge or attention for professional identities has not been fully explored yet. In this study of physicians in the Belgian Congo, we argue that a new professional identity – or persona – of the Catholic colonial doctor arose as a result of Catholic religious doctrine, missionary politics and biomedical developments. The persona of the mission’s main healthcare provider, with a strong commitment to curative medicine, was a metropolitan professional identity shaped by older missionary narratives. In colonial day-to-day reality, however, where tensions between physicians, missionaries and state officials abounded, this discursive identity proved difficult to maintain.

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