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Medicine Between Science and Religion

Medicine Between Science and Religion: Explorations on Tibetan Grounds

Vincanne Adams
Mona Schrempf
Sienna R. Craig
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 324
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  • Book Info
    Medicine Between Science and Religion
    Book Description:

    There is a growing interest in studies that document the relationship between science and medicine - as ideas, practices, technologies and outcomes - across cultural, national, geographic terrain. Tibetan medicine is not only known as a scholarly medical tradition among other Asian medical systems, with many centuries of technological, clinical, and pharmacological innovation; it also survives today as a complex medical resource across many Asian nations - from India and Bhutan to Mongolia, Tibet (TAR) and China, Buryatia - as well as in Western Europe and the Americas. The contributions to this volume explore, in equal measure, the impacts of western science and biomedicine on Tibetan grounds - i.e., among Tibetans across China, the Himalaya and exile communities as well as in relation to globalized Tibetan medicine - and the ways that local practices change how such "science" gets done, and how this continually hybridized medical knowledge is transmitted and put into practice. As such, this volume contributes to explorations into the bi-directional flows of medical knowledge and practice.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-974-1
    Subjects: Anthropology, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Vincanne Adams, Mona Schrempf and Sienna R. Craig
  5. Notes on Transliteration
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Chapter 1 Introduction: Medicine in Translation between Science and Religion
    (pp. 1-28)
    Vincanne Adams, Mona Schrempf and Sienna R. Craig

    A growing body of scholarship from the fields of history, anthropology, science and technology studies, and philosophy addresses the translation of scientific epistemologies as practices between and across cultures. Nowhere is this engagement more compelling than in discussions of medicine: what it consists in, how its claims to knowledge and efficacy are validated, how it allows for innovation and at the same time advocates a consistent empirical position, and how it is configured within cultural and national imaginaries and global markets. Likewise, socio-cultural and colonial studies of medicine reveal how biomedical science – translated into a variety of clinical, technological,...


    • [I Introduction]
      (pp. 29-32)

      We begin this volume with a modern historical perspective in order to show that the ethnographic complexities of encounters between disparate rational traditions of healing are far from new in the world of Tibetan medicine. We noted in the introduction, as have others before us, that the history of Tibetan medicine is itself a history of syncretism, borrowing, merging and translations across empirical and cultural geographies that probably began with the very formulation of theGyüshi. In this volume, we have selected essays that convey the nuanced and layered ways in which this type of amalgamation occurred in the modern...

    • Chapter 2 Biomedicine in Tibet at the Edge of Modernity
      (pp. 33-56)
      Alex McKay

      The Tibetan medical world has never been closed to outside influences. In the classical medical text of theGyüshi, for example, we may detect historical encounters with Greek, Persian, Chinese and Indian medicine.¹ Each of those traditions has contributed to the body of knowledge in that seminal text ofsowa rigpa, ‘the science of healing’ in theGyüshior theFour Tantras. Elements which are today seen as an integral part of a ‘Tibetan’, or more precisely Tibetan Buddhist system, have in actuality thus undergone a process by which they were adopted, synthesized and eventually indigenized.² This is, of course,...

    • Chapter 3 Tibetan Medicine and Russian Modernities
      (pp. 57-78)
      Martin Saxer

      Modernity has been a powerful notion for more than a century, in anthropology as in many other fields. Early diffusion theories have taken it for granted that Western modernity slowly penetrates and takes over every region on this planet, and social scientists such as Durkheim, Weber, Parsons and Elias saw the conflict of tradition versus modernity as critical for the evolution of humanity. The idea that modernization inevitably and effectively destroys cultural diversity lies at the heart of many anthropologists’ endeavours, from Bronislaw Malinowski (1922) to Margaret Mead (1995) and Claude Lévi-Strauss (1965).

      In the perspective of modernization theories from...


    • [II Introduction]
      (pp. 79-82)

      Part Two continues to frame Tibetan medicine’s various encounters with modernity by moving from context to content, and by engaging in epistemological discussions about the relationships between Tibetan medicine and science, truth and medical moralities, as well as plays of culture and identity that emerge from these encounters. Chapter Four begins with the role that Tibetan medicine has come to play inside and outside the Tibetan exile community. Kloos argues that Tibetan medicine is clearly linked to a politics of identity in Tibetan exile. These politics transform the Dharamsala Men-Tsee-Khang into the biggest and most important internal and external flagship...

    • Chapter 4 Navigating ‘Modern Science’ and ‘Traditional Culture’: the Dharamsala Men-Tsee-Khang in India
      (pp. 83-106)
      Stephan Kloos

      When Dr Tsering casually made this remark in a conversation about Tibetan medicine, it was almost fifteen years since he had crossed, as a teenager, the mountainous border between Tibet and Nepal, and made his way to Dharamsala in India. His brother was already a monk there, and his letters, promising good schools and the opportunity to learn English, had convinced Tsering to go and try his luck. While visiting Tsering in the Tibetan clinic in the hills of northeastern India,² where he worked as the resident physician oramchi, I was struck by the change in outlook represented by...

    • Chapter 5 A Tibetan Way of Science: Revisioning Biomedicine as Tibetan Practice
      (pp. 107-126)
      Vincanne Adams, Renchen Dhondup and Phuoc V. Le

      In a world where the visible and tangible rewards of a surgically-based, antibiotically-driven ‘Western scientific’ medicine or ‘biomedicine’ always seem to supplant indigenous methods of healing, it is important to remember that moments of encounter always work in both directions. Many have noted the intrinsically integrative and syncretic character of Tibetan medicine, dating back to its inception (Meyer 1992, Dummer 1988, Clark 1995) and, as others have noted (McKay and Saxer, in this volume), encounters between Tibetan medicine and biomedicine and/or modern science date back at least a hundred years.¹ Tibetan medicine today contains elements that reflect these encounters. Nevertheless,...

    • Chapter 6 Correlating Biomedical and Tibetan Medical Terms in Amchi Medical Practice
      (pp. 127-152)
      Barbara Gerke

      This chapter discusses the process of how classical Tibetan medical terms acquire new meanings, especially when practitioners of ‘Tibetan medicine’ in both the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Indian exile¹ are exposed to ideas about biomedicine. The ethnographic examples presented are based on doctoral fieldwork (2004–2006) carried out among Dharamsala Men-Tsee-Khang trained Tibetan doctors working in the Darjeeling Hills, India. In the second part of this chapter I give the example of two biomedical terms, ‘oxygen’ and ‘haemoglobin’, and analyse how they are used and interpreted in the Tibetan clinical practice of Amchi Jamyang Tashi at the Kalimpong Men-Tsee-Khang...


    • [III Introduction]
      (pp. 153-156)

      The third section of this volume explores the ways in which Tibetan medicine is used and interpreted by practitioners, patients and researchers. As the subtitle indicates, the context in which each of these chapters’ ethnographic data emerges makes important observations about the flexibility ofsowa rigpa. From Lhasa to Amdo, from India to the U.S., we see examples of how asowa rigpasensibility infuses the pragmatic and epistemological choices people make when charting a path through various forms ofsowa rigpaand biomedicine, in pursuit of healing at multiple levels. Here, an overt concern with howsowa rigpawill...

    • Chapter 7 Between Mantra and Syringe: Healing and Health-Seeking Behaviour in Contemporary Amdo
      (pp. 157-184)
      Mona Schrempf

      The referents ‘mantra’ and ‘syringe’ in my title may serve as two general, iconic poles in a shared cultural logic of healing among Tibetan communities. Towards the ‘religious’ end of this spectrum,mantramay represent here the ritual healing practices performed by professional healers and patients. Syringe, on the other hand, refers to a ‘scientific’ biomedical technology commonly in use among Tibetans (and in rural China in general) that became the symbolic signifier for and hallmark of Western medicine and modernity. The term syringe is meant to indicate intravenous injections (IV) usually containing an antibiotic that are frequently used for...

    • Chapter 8 From Home to Hospital: the Extension of Obstetrics in Ladakh
      (pp. 185-214)
      Kim Gutschow

      This chapter examines the extension of biomedical obstetrics within the Ladakh region of the Indian Himalaya. More particularly, it looks at the factors that both promote and constrain the shift of birth from home to hospital in Ladakh. My preliminary findings suggest that while there has been a marked increase in the number of hospital births in Ladakh in the last two decades – greater than the Indian average – home births continue to be popular in many parts of rural Ladakh. Certain factors promoting hospital birth are unique to Ladakh, namely the presence of motivated and charismatic doctors who,...

    • Chapter 9 From Empowerments to Power Calculations: Notes on Efficacy, Value and Method
      (pp. 215-240)
      Sienna R. Craig

      The notion of ritual efficacy has a long history in both the discipline of anthropology and in the context of Tibetan civilization. One need only look as far as Evans-Pritchard’sWitchcraft,Oracles and Magic Among the Azande(1976) or Lévi-Strauss’s seminal insights in ‘The Sorcerer and His Magic’ (1967) to understand the salience of inquiry into the ways meaning is made through ritualized action, and by which cure – or other types of biosocial transformation – is attained. In medical anthropology, a more general concern with what is meant by the term ‘efficacy’ across biomedical and non-Western medical praxes has...


    • [IV Introduction]
      (pp. 241-244)

      The chapters of Part IV are written by researchers and/or practitioners of Tibetan medicine, and, for this reason, make an enormous contribution to our understanding of how Tibetan medicine changes practices of science internationally. On one hand, these chapters provide some of the most direct claims about the relationships between Tibetan and biomedical theory. On the other hand, they are uniquely embedded within the perspectives they represent, whether it is that of theGyüshior of clinical oncology. In the actual practices of doing research, as we see in these chapters, it is sometimes easier to focus on the practical...

    • Chapter 10 Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methodology in Tibetan Medicine: the History, Background and Development of Research in Sowa Rigpa
      (pp. 245-264)
      Mingji Cuomu

      In the same way that the forefathers of Tibetan medicine collected all the best practices of other medical systems of their time¹ to enrich their own knowledge and practice, we, the researchers of today, must use whatever suitable testing techniques are available to assess the benefits of Tibetan medicine and its remedies through methods of internationally accepted investigation. This is of utmost importance for the future of this medical system.

      The first step in this process, however, is to recognize the uniqueness and preciousness of our medical tradition. From this basis, we should strive to develop research methods that will...

    • Chapter 11 The Four Tantras and the Global Market: Changing Epistemologies of Drä (’bras) versus Cancer
      (pp. 265-296)
      Olaf Czaja

      In March 1996, a medical conference took place in Dharamsala bringing together doctors and researchers of Tibetan medicine from the Tibetan exile community in order to discuss this medical system in the age of globalization. The ‘Conference on Clinical Research in Tibetan Medicine’ (Bod sman nad bcos nyams zhib kyi tshogs chen) took place on the initiative of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and was organized by the Research and Development Department of the Men-Tsee-Khang (MTK). Doctors from all over India assembled in Dharamsala. Most of them were trained in Tibetan medicine, some of them in biomedicine and a few in...

    • Chapter 12 Re-integrating the Dharmic Perspective in Bio-Behavioural Research of a ‘Tibetan Yoga’ (tsalung trülkhor) Intervention for People with Cancer
      (pp. 297-318)
      Alejandro Chaoul

      ‘Channel breaths’ ortsalung¹ and ‘magical movement’ ortrülkhorare distinctive Tibetan mind-body practices in which breath and concentration of the mind are integrated with particular body movements. They have been part of spiritual training in Tibet since at least the tenth century ce. The globalization of the twentieth century has not only allowed many of the Eastern mind-body practices to take root in the West, but some practitioners have also adopted what anthropologist Joseph Alter calls practices of ‘modern medical yoga’ (2005).

      At the turn of the twenty-first century, a randomized controlled clinical trial using channel breaths and magical...

  11. Chapter 13 Epilogue: Towards a Sowa Rigpa Sensibility
    (pp. 319-332)
    Geoffrey Samuel

    The chapters in this book are innovative in the multi-dimensional picture that they present of the interaction, over a wide range of places and times, between Tibetan modes of healing and the European-derived tradition of biomedicine. They are innovative in another respect as well; as Vincanne Adams, Mona Schrempf and Sienna Craig announce in their Introduction, this volume is intended to present an account that is based on the sensibility ofsowa rigpa, the Tibetan ‘science of healing’, rather than that of biomedicine, and that takessowa rigpa, not biomedicine, as its epistemological starting point. In this closing chapter, I...

  12. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 333-336)
  13. Index
    (pp. 337-372)