Episode 32: Religious Experience

Marie-Marguerite d'Youville

The portrait of Marie-Marguerite d’Youville is in the public domain, and was downloaded from the Vatican’s biography of the saint.

There’s an old stereotype that portrays science and religion as inevitably mired in conflict. On today’s show we look past the clichés—evolution and Galileo and all that—for some areas where the two have something constructive to say to each other. We start off with early philosophers’ attempts to understand the soul as an element. Next, we chat with Jackie Duffin, a historian and hematologist at the University of Toronto, who inadvertently found herself making a case for sainthood for Marie-Marguerite d’Youville (pictured). Partially because of Duffin’s testimony, d’Youville was recognized as the first Canadian saint in 1990. Duffin’s experience with the Vatican inspired her new book, Medical Miracles: Doctors, Saints, and Healing in the Modern World, which will be published by Oxford University Press this October. We wrap up the show with a look at the chemistry of zombies. Element of the Week: Pneuma.

Show Clock

00:00 Opening Credits
00:32 Introduction
01:01 Element of the Week: Pneuma
03:00 A Conversation with Jackie Duffin
07:55 Mystery Solved! Zombies
10:42 Quote: Albert Einstein
11:02 Closing Credits

Resources and References

For background on pneuma, we relied on William Newman’s Promethean Ambitions: Alchemy and the Quest to Perfect Nature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).
Mary Roach tells the story of the weight of the soul in her book on scientific studies of the afterlife, Spooked, and also in “A Soul’s Weight,” Lost Magazine (December 2005). [Note: we are having trouble linking to the article, but just Google the phrase "soul's weight lost magazine."]
You can learn more about the process of canonization and miracle verification at the Web site of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
The information on voodoo powder came from William Booth, “Voodoo Science,” Science 240 (1988): 274–277.
You can find a chemical analysis of tetradotoxin here.
Today’s quote is from Albert Einstein’s 1941 book, Science, Philosophy, and Religion.


A special thanks to Robert Hicks for researching the show.

Our theme music is composed by Dave Kaufman. Additional music from the PodSafe Music Network. Additional music is “To Lose the War,” by Josh Woodward, “Burnt Sugar,” by Plasmabat, and “Funk in A,” by Pat Zalenka.


Posted In: History | Medicine | Society

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