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"Western" and "Indigenous" Psychologies in Popular North Indian Culture

William Sax

The paradigms and terminology of biomedicine seem to have penetrated Indian popular culture from top to bottom, but the same cannot be said for psychology. To what extent are terms and ideas associated with ("Western") psychology current in North Indian popular culture? Is the frequent assertion that Indians "somatize" their illnesses true? Is the relation between "somatization" and "psychologization" changing with the introduction of psychological and psychiatric language and therapies. From September 2009 until March 2010, Prof. Sax will investigate these issues as a fellow of the Institue for Advanced Study at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, India. 

Asymmetrical Translation in a Clinical Setting

Johannes Quack

The project of Johannes Quack focuses on the “translation activities” between psychiatrists in India and people with mental health problems. Western-trained health professionals in India often must translate their concepts into the "language" of their patients during the course of therapy, and vice versa. The work of Quack addresses particularly the way in which family members or friends can function thereby as facilitators or “cultural brokers”. A further interest of Quack lies on the role of religious beliefs and practices within the Indian mental health sector. To what degree are religious beliefs and practices recognized by mental health professionals and what is their perspective on traditional and religious healers and their therapies?


Asymmetrical Translations in Ayurvedic Nosology

Ananda Samir Chopra 

Contemporary Āyurveda has taught and practiced in India is heavily influenced by processes of translation in different aspects: modern biomedical concepts are translated into classical āyurvedic Sanskrit terminology, ancient concepts are translated into modern biophysical concepts. An additional process of translation takes place when Āyurveda is practiced in Europe as can be witnessed in recent years. These processes of translation are often asymmetrical in a complex manner, e. g. the translation of biomedical concepts into āyurvedic terminology is of course informed by the perceived superiority of biomedicine. But the fact that ancient terms are employed to describe modern biomedical concepts (instead of new terms being coined) hints at a different asymmetry: in the understanding of classical Indian culture traditional knowledge (śāstra) is inherently true because it is part of a revealed primordial knowledge and everything including modern "discoveries" must be present in this knowledge. To study these processes and their implications this project aims at researching the development of Āyurvedic nosology a) historically in the classical and postclassical Āyurvedic literature upto the 18th century, b) in contemporary Āyurveda as taught and practiced in India and c) in Āyurveda as practiced in Europe. It is of special interest to study Nosology because this is the discipline where medical theory is confronted with medical practice and so the medical perspective of translation and asymmetry can well be observed in this field.


Organizing Minds as if they were Bodies: East – West Exchanges through late Colonial Times

Davar V Bhargavi

The purpose of this part of the project is to write a book length draft manuscript by December 2010 on the ideational and institutional histories of psychology and psychiatry in India through the late colonial period by studying disciplinary and institutional archives. The organization of philosophy, the various social science disciplines as well as medicine on the Cartesian dichotomy of Mind / Body through the colonial times, is documented somewhat in contemporary writings. The impact of this dichotomy on the theory creation, practice and the professional organization of mental and behavioural sciences, within a colonial context, are little understood. In a global project that is mainly anthropological with a focus on the present, this part of the project aims to provide a temporal, historicized view of the flow and control of knowledge in the mental and behavioural sciences in India, through the late colonial times. The project also aims to show the reinterpretation or substitution of indigenous knowledge of mental healing from the point of view of ‘modern’ psychiatry. This historicizing may anchor a more complex understanding of the east-west, mind-body, modernity - premodernity dichotomies, that the larger project is engaging with. This part of the project assumes that not only spatial flows, but also temporal flows are centrally determining of east – west translations: What has been given to us ideationally through the late colonial period [1920s-1940s] is determining of what is happening in the present, within the mental and behavioural sciences. Closely reading psychiatric and psychoanalytic literature of the times under review, especially on embodied phenomena [possession / hysteria; expression of body sensations / somatisation], will be attempted. A study of the development and professional organization of psychological and behavioural sciences in India, weaning away from biology on the one hand, and philosophy / religion on the other, will be attempted.

Marunnum manthravum: An Ethnographic Enquiry into the Idioms of Illness Healing and the Self in a Traditional Healing Practice in Malabar, Kerala

Hari Kumar Nair

The concepts of Mind and Mental Health in Ayurveda are an important issue for Medical Anthropology. The debate on Mind-Body dualism has posited the absence of a sharp distinction between Mental and Physical realms in Traditional Medical systems. Here one is confronted with "Asymmetrical Translations" of terminologies and practices within and between the Western and Traditional medical systems. Since ayurvedic classifications are based on different ontological paradigms, their expressions and interpretations in terms of Western Psychology and Psychiatry are to be viewed and debated critically. But the engagement between these systems also invites scientific enquiry. Recent anthropological fieldwork done in Kerala suggests a wide range of "local phenomenologies" regarding Mental Health, irrespective of the availability of Psychological and Psychiatric services and the hegemonic discourses of these systems. By doing field work in a family-based, non-institutional ayurvedic practice focusing on Mental Healing, this study will examine the existence and prevalence of local phenomenologies, their literary and non literary roots, and their negotiations and interactions with Psychology, Psychiatry, and other systems of mental healing, both in theory and practice.

Ayurveda Reconfigured: The Interplay of Ayurvedic, Biomedical and Psychological Paradigms in an Ayurvedic Resort in South India

Christoph Cyranski


This project investigates the role of biomedical, psychological and Ayurvedic paradigms in reconfigurations of Ayurvedic practice in an Ayurvedic resort in south India.
In the last two decades, with Ayurvedic resorts new institutions of Ayurvedic practice have emerged in India and Sri Lanka. Located in popular holiday destinations, these resorts offer a variegated mélange of therapeutic and wellness treatments for predominantly European guests.
The aim of this project is to analyze in which ways Ayurvedic practice is reconfigured through the interaction between foreign guests and local practitioners and the local management in one such Ayurvedic resort in the south Indian state of Kerala. It will be investigated which new elements have entered the realm of Ayurvedic treatment, which aspects have been modified, and which parts have been removed – together with the transnational processes that have led to these transformations. An emphasis will be on an analysis of the patterns in which biomedical, psychological and Ayurvedic idioms, concepts and terminologies are communicated and negotiated between Indian practitioners and European guests and in which they are translated into treatment practice.
The project will provide theoretical reflections on the formation of transnational Ayurvedic practice and knowledge resulting from international encounters and shaped by a historically grown asymmetrical relationship, in terms of both theory and practice, between biomedicine and psychology on one side and Ayurveda on the other.