From plague to AIDS, epidemics have been the most spectacular diseases to afflict human societies. This volume examines the ways in which these great crises have influenced ideas, how they have helped to shape theological, political and social thought, and how they have been interpreted and understood in the intellectual context of their time. The first chapters look at classical Athens, early medieval Europe and the Islamic world, in order to establish the intellectual traditions which influenced later developments. Then there are contributions on responses to different epidemics in early modern and modern Europe, where western notions of 'public health' were defined: and chapters on the ways in which disease was perceived outside Europe, in India, Africa and the Pacific, where different intellectual traditions and different disease patterns came together. The final chapters brings us back home, looking at the ways in which policies towards AIDS have been formulated in the 1980s and drawing striking parallels as well as contrasts with the social construction of disease in the more remote past.