The Religion of Chiropractic

Populist Healing from the American Heartland

By Holly Folk

366 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 16 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-3279-7
    Published: May 2017
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8566-1
    Published: March 2017
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3278-0
    Published: May 2017
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-3280-3
    Published: March 2017

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Chiropractic is by far the most common form of alternative medicine in the United States today, but its fascinating origins stretch back to the battles between science and religion in the nineteenth century. At the center of the story are chiropractic's colorful founders, D. D. Palmer and his son, B. J. Palmer, of Davenport, Iowa, where in 1897 they established the Palmer College of Chiropractic. Holly Folk shows how the Palmers' system depicted chiropractic as a conduit for both material and spiritualized versions of a “vital principle,” reflecting popular contemporary therapies and nineteenth-century metaphysical beliefs, including the idea that the spine was home to occult forces.

The creation of chiropractic, and other Progressive-era versions of alternative medicine, happened at a time when the relationship between science and religion took on an urgent, increasingly competitive tinge. Many remarkable people, including the Palmers, undertook highly personal reinterpretations of their physical and spiritual worlds. In this context, Folk reframes alternative medicine and spirituality as a type of populist intellectual culture in which ideologies about the body comprise a highly appealing form of cultural resistance.

About the Author

Holly Folk is associate professor of liberal studies at Western Washington University.
For more information about Holly Folk, visit the Author Page.


“This brilliant and easily readable book may well become the standard for the treatment of the origins of chiropractic and its relationship with religion and spirituality for years to come.”--Reading Religion

“Very well written and organised.”--Medical History

"Will be of interest to members of the chiropractic profession . . . but also to those interested in the history of medicine and those who examine sociological contexts. . . . Provocative and interesting.”--Doody’s Notes

“Her coverage of the chiropractors’ metaphysical views makes for fascinating reading.”--The Annals of Iowa

“Folk has given us a rich, carefully drawn out, and historically grounded account of chiropractic’s origin myth . . . . Through it all, Folk mounts a convincing case for the ways in which medicine, religion, and politics have been and remain deeply interconnected.”--Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Religion of Chiropractic should be required reading for every student and practitioner of chiropractic, and highly recommended for every patient and healthcare provider or institution that interacts, or is considering engagement, with chiropractic. The book is written in an accessible, sometimes colloquial, style suitable for undergraduates and general readers, while also offering specialists precise information. The book is to be commended—and purchased.”--Journal of the History of Medicine