Course Synopsis – Clash of Beliefs: Culture, Spirituality and Health

Natalie Torbet

Clash of Beliefs:

Culture, Spirituality and Health

Week by Week Course Synopsis

Presented by Dr Natalie Tobert this comprehensive course Clash of Beliefs: Culture, Spirituality and Health:  offers seminars that explore new spiritual and cultural frameworks for understanding unusual experiences. It explores what it means to be human in today’s world. The case studies provided in the training hint at radical challenges to common consensus in our society.

This exciting course lies within the discipline of medical anthropology. That is, it considers what people like us really do to benefit our health, alongside biomedicine.  It explores various meanings given to the term ‘spirituality’ and discusses their relevance for our understanding of medicine and healthcare.

The course offers an overview of what it means to be human. Throughout we encourage participants to develop a positive awareness of cross-cultural understandings of the human body and its core experiences (which may include altered states of consciousness).  The seminars raise awareness of cultural, religious, or spiritual beliefs which may influence our access to health care.


This course is suitable for front line practitioners in medicine and health care, and for other front line staff including social workers, housing officers, police, ambulance, maternity and teachers. It is also for people like us, anyone who would benefit from gaining a deeper understanding of our fellow humans.  The course was developed to enhance social well being and spiritual understandings, at a global level.

The aim of seminars is to empower us to work with spiritual and religious beliefs; to raise awareness of cultural expressions of physical and mental distress; and to explore communication strategies that might be used during consultation. A long term aim is to improve quality of life for practitioners, clients, and us.

Week 1


We introduce the module, each of its parts, and discuss what is expected of the facilitator and the role of participants.  We acknowledge that people have many different ways of understanding the world, and accept that a range of communication strategies are required to empathise with others whilst perhaps maintaining our own beliefs.  Participants are invited to keep a journal of their responses to sessions (for their eyes only).

Week 2

Part One: The Human Body and the Self

Spirituality and Cultural Meanings

Is it a belief, a practice, or an experience? We explore various meanings of ‘spirituality’ and their relevance for medicine and health care; importance of religious and spiritual beliefs for mental health of new migrant and refugee populations.  We discuss narratives of ancient and modern migration, and sacred healing texts.

Week 3

Conception and Identity

Who am I? We investigate migration narratives about identity, religion, faith and health: the nature of Being British, Being American, homeland, being a refugee or asylum seeker, concepts of statelessness, and stressors influencing health. We consider differences between 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation migrants, persons of dual heritage. We explore:  cultural explanations for conception and birth; beliefs about what influences fertility, conception and pregnancy. Are we born free?

Week 4

Women and Human Behaviour

What value women? We cover women’s topics like: modesty, honour and shame; FGM (female genital mutilation); rape; sex-selective abortions, the differences between forced and arranged marriages; and their influences on health and mental wellbeing.  We consider different communication strategies to engage with beliefs of others.

Week 5

Human Body and the Self

What is a body? We explore theories of illness causation and ways these influence access to services, acceptance of diagnosis and treatment. We present: cross cultural knowledge and beliefs about the human body, the way it works, its properties and faculties, and its implants. We compare medical models and lay understandings.

Week 6

Reading week

Week 7

Part Two: Mental Wellbeing and Altered States

Mental Health and Wellbeing

What is spiritual awakening? We explore cultural explanations for mental distress; and religious health seeking strategies. We discuss case studies that illustrate cultural, spiritual or religious beliefs that may inhibit access to statutory services. We examine the relevance of this material for front line practice and treatment strategies.

Week 8

Religious and Spiritual Experiences

Whose experience? We investigate cultural explanations for conditions, which may attract psychiatric attention; bereavement, apparitions, visions, altered states of consciousness.  We continue to explore differences in beliefs and cultural understandings of transpersonal and religious experience.

Week 9

Part Three: Consciousness Beyond Death

Death Dying and Beyond

What is a good death? We discuss concepts of good and bad death; suicide and sudden death; cultural rituals on death and their relevance for medical and health care practice. We consider communication strategies at difficult times, and discuss why seminars on death and dying appear to be very popular now.

Week 10

Survival Beyond Death

What happens when we die? We investigate: cultural expectations about what happens to consciousness after death, and its relevance for the health of the living; religious beliefs about survival and their relevance for the bereaved.  We discuss case studies on beliefs about reincarnation and rebirth; end of life experiences; and near death experiences.

Week 11

Reading week

Week 12

Part Four: Cultural U-Turns and Paradigm Change

Cultural U-Turns

What is a cultural u-turn? We discuss a range of Cultural U-Turns to illustrate that cultural U-turns (where a society changes its mind and laws about the status quo) are frequent and normal.  We explore evidence suggestive of another U-turn in our ways of understanding and addressing mental well-being in the near future.

Week 13

Turning Point for Paradigm Change

What is a paradigm? We discuss the turning point that is currently occurring in healthcare, as front line medical and health care practitioners become aware of more spiritual ways of interpreting ‘mental health symptoms’. We consider how this new awareness might reduce distress, enhance well being, and support those practitioners who know their original training does not fit the spirit of our times.

Week 14

Communication and Working with Peers

Clash of beliefs? For years cultural competency was an ideal: the acquiring of knowledge about this or that culture. The new approach is cultural humility: an ongoing process of communication and questioning.  We become more self reflective; listen; appreciate cultural difference; become more aware of our own cultural values; and negotiate appropriate treatments.   We explore different communication strategies to engage with beliefs of others.

Week 15

Last words

We discuss how we will carry the learning forward from these seminars.  How can we honour change? What practical steps might we take to support individual and global well being?

Testimonials from previous courses

 “overall an amazing and interesting course”

“Very balanced and thought provoking, excellent.”

“opened my eyes to things you would not expect to discuss”

“we covered a wide variety of topics otherwise not discussed in the degree”

“Excellent, worth going to, makes you think more about your roles as a health care professional.”

“The whole series of workshops have already proved thought provoking and relevant to my practice. Thank you.”

“Very professional, well paced.”

Register Here for Clash of Beliefs: Culture, Spirituality and Health