The Rise of Medicalised Mindfulness During the 1970s and 1980s The Attempted Convergence of Religion and Science Section Articles


Stephen Morris


In the 1970s, scientists combined spiritual meditation methods with scientific knowledge to access the curative potential of belief-based practices. Mindfulness was one of several meditation methods scientists claimed could deliver health benefits. In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn redefined traditional mindfulness meditation for clinical use, later rebranding the training as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). Mindfulness eventually became the dominant object of meditation research, spawning a family of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs). Today MBIs are embedded within UK health and social policy. However, despite the widespread acceptance of mindfulness, scientists have identified limitations in the evidence supporting its proliferation. Notwithstanding these concerns, little is known about how meditation converged with science during the 1970s and 1980s. Transdisciplinary investigation of the history of meditation has shed new light on mindfulness’s migration to medico-scientific domains. From this perspective, MBSR appears as part of a wider movement to relocate spiritual meditation within science. By analysing peer-reviewed scientific and humanities studies, this paper will outline how mindfulness became scientifically validated through a process I describe as medicalisation. I will also briefly discuss a possible relationship between medicalisation and current concerns in mindfulness research.
Keywords: mindfulness, meditation, transdisciplinary, belief, medicalisation