ERC Starting Grant 2014

ERC Starting Grant 2014


Reassembling Tibetan Medicine: The Formation of a Transnational Sowa Rigpa Industry in Contemporary India, China, Mongolia and Bhutan


“Traditional medicine” has recently emerged from a highly marginalized position in many parts of the world to become a rapidly expanding and highly innovative multi-billion dollar global industry. However, despite growing academic, economic and public interest in the “traditional” pharmaceutical industry, we know little about its larger dynamics, shape, and wider socio-economic and public health implications. This 5-year interdisciplinary study of the emergent transnational Tibetan medicine (or “Sowa Rigpa”) industry in India, China, Mongolia and Bhutan aims to fill this gap.

The Sowa Rigpa industry, in which traditional Tibetan medicine is transformed into a mass-produced commodity for domestic and international markets, is a particularly illustrative and timely case of the traditional pharmaceutical industry at large. On the one hand, it is still small enough to be studied by one team of experienced researchers, and on the other hand, its industry is only now emerging and taking shape, allowing a real-time investigation of its development.

This project breaks new ground by being the first comprehensive, large-scale, interdisciplinary study of Sowa Rigpa in a transnational context. It conceptualizes Sowa Rigpa- raw materials, pharmaceutical producers, markets and administrations as parts of a pharmaceutical assemblage, thus enabling an analysis of the larger dynamics and connections that shape this industry as a socio-cultural, political, economic and public health phenomenon. In this way, not only a hitherto non-existent “big picture” of a traditional pharmaceutical industry can be generated, but also the increasingly fluid intersections of science and religion, ethics and politics, capitalism and culture in the contemporary world can be charted.


This project is funded by an ERC Starting Grant and based at the Austrian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Social Anthropology (ISA). Running for five years from April 2014 to March 2019, it is carried out by an international team of four post-doctoral researchers led by Stephan Kloos. For more information, see



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