Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Michael H. Logan

Committee Members

Donald R. Ploch, William M. Bass, Ira E. Harrison


This research investigates the degree to which Pentecostals in Pakal-Na, Chiapas, Mexico, employ personalistic rather than naturalistic disease theory (Foster, 1976) in selecting curing methods, and it compares Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal employment of health resources. In naturalistic disease theory, illness results from impersonal, natural forces (i.e., cold, heat, wind and dampness) which cause an imbalance in natural body states. In personalistic disease theory, illness is caused by supernatural forces. Because of differences in believed sources of illness, these two theories of disease predispose individuals to select different therapies and curers.

For this study, personalistic/naturalistic categories were viewed as a continuum, and Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal curing practices were examined in terms of naturalistic and/or personalistic elements involved in each. Pakal-Na residents have access to three major healing resources: folk-traditional (including sorcerers, spiritists, herbalists, and herbs); modern-western (including medical professionals, pharamaceutical drugs, hospital, and clinic); and religious (including prayer, Bible, church, priests, evangelical pastors). The religious orientation is viewed as most personalistic; modern-western as most naturalistic; and folk-traditional as being at a midpoint on the continuum.

Four methods were used to collect data on healing methodology in Pakal-Na. Participant observation consisted of daily visits to local Pentecostal churches, attendance at a Pentecostal convention, and trips with pastors while they prayed for the sick. The second method was a structured interview with 47 Pentecostals, covering motives for joining the movement and healing experiences. Through interviews, participants shared 123 healing narratives. Interviews were analyzed using Opler’s thematic approach (1945) assuming that themes appearing frequently are significant in the culture. The third method was a semantic differential questionnaire distributed to 70 villagers. The questionnaire sampled attitudinal and behavioral involvement with healing elements from each of the three orientations. Responses to questionnaire items were cross-classified with Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal identification to determine the presence of differences between them. Cramer’s V was used to determine the strength of difference. Key informants, including local health professionals, were interviewed to clarify other information.

The findings show that Pentecostals employ a more personalistic approach than non-Pentecostals. However, both groups showed little involvement with traditional curers, and both showed high confidence in religious elements including church, prayer, and Bible. Uniquely Pentecostal healing elements included a dedicated life style, visions, Holy Spirit possession, and sanctified oil. Non-Pentecostals had a more positive attitude toward modern medicine, but Pentecostals appear to be integrating modern medical techniques into their personalistic framework. The social aspects of Pentecostal healing appear important to villagers, and healing was cited as the reason for movement membership by 80% of the adherents interviewed. Pentecostals demonstrated marked uniformity in responses, indicating an ideological framework underlying healing choices. The co-opting of certain folk-traditional health practices by socioreligious movements deserves further investigation, as do the functions and dysfunctions of these movements in the transition toward modern medicine. Pentecostalism has growth potential in Pakal-Na because it is a rapidly modernizing village in which Pentecostals provide personalistic healing through quasi-family relations and church/community integration. Pentecostalism offers a transition between traditional and modern medicine, but ambiguity in healing theology and stringent life-style commitments prevent complete acceptance of this religious ideology.

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