Modern science emphasizes the known and eschews the mysterious. Medicine, for instance, won't acknowledge the validity of treatments that can't be explained, such as holistic healing; physics, in turn, doesn't admit to gaping holes in our knowledge--new, improved theories are simply seen as supplanting others. Religion is rightfully seen as science's opposite, for it reverses the mysterious and distrusts humans who claim to be all-knowing. As the author writes, "We worship to acknowledge the things we don't understand."
"The Dancing Healers" is the story of one man's struggle to bring the two traditions together in his own life. Carl Hammerschlag joined the Indian Health Service (IHS) in 1965 to avoid being drafted for the Vietnam War. He came to the IHS with a respect, typical of his day, for "the uncorrupted people," but he was still accustomed to thinking in the certitudes of Western science. Reality chiseled away at Hammerschlag's resolve, however, as he faced dozens of mortalities daily and came across traditionalist Indians who would die mysteriously on ceremonial days of their own choosing. Eventually, Hammerschlag becomes a holistic healer. While visiting a young woman filled with anger toward her body after a miscarriage, for instance, he starts talking to the broccoli on her lunch tray: "I told it to cleanse Patty's insides with its fuzzy brush head . . . She started to get well."