Parasites, Worms, and the Human Body in Religion and Culture

by Brenda Gardenour (Volume editor) Misha Tadd (Volume editor)
©2012 Monographs XXXVI, 217 Pages


The fear of parasites – with their power to invade, infest, and transform the self – writhes and wriggles through cultures and religions across the globe, reflecting a very human revulsion of being invaded and consumed by both internal and external forces. However, in ancient China, the parasitic wasp and the worm illuminate the relationship between the sage and his pupil. On the Indian sub-continent, Hindu cultures worship Nagas, entities who protect sources of drinking water from parasitic contamination, and the reciprocal relationship between parasite and host is a recurring theme in Vedic literature and ayurvedic texts. In medieval Europe, worms are symbols of both corruption through sin and redemption through Christ. In traditional African American culture, disease is attributed to infestation by supernatural spiders, bugs, and worms, while in the rainforests of southern Argentina, parasitologists fight against very real parasitic invaders. The worm represents our Jungian shadow, and we fear their bodies for they are our own – soft and vulnerable, powerfully destructive, mindlessly living off the corpses of others, and feeding on the corpse of the world.
This book gathers together scholarly research from diverse disciplines, including anthropology, the health sciences, history, literature, the medical humanities, parasitology, sociology, and religious studies.


XXXVI, 217
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2012 (February)
Literature Parasites Worms Religion Anthropology Cross-Cultural History
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2012. XXXVI, 217 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Brenda Gardenour (Volume editor) Misha Tadd (Volume editor)

Brenda Gardenour holds a PhD in medieval history from Boston University and is currently Assistant Professor of History at the Saint Louis College of Pharmacy. She has been a Fulbright scholar in Madrid, an Evelyn Nation research fellow at the Huntington Library in California, and an NEH fellow at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine in London. Her current research examines the use and abuse of Aristotelian discourse in the medieval world and its continued influence on the deeper structures of modern mentalités, particularly those linked with the horror genre. Misha Tadd is a PhD candidate at Boston University specializing in Early Daoism. He received a Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation Doctoral Fellowship for his work on Heshanggong zhu, a little-studied, but seminal, Daodejing commentary. Through this text, his dissertation explores the intersection of body, religion, and politics, and the ideal of harmony between the individual and society. Currently, he is an adjunct faculty member at Loyola Marymount University.


Title: Parasites, Worms, and the Human Body in Religion and Culture