Wenner-Gren Fieldwork Grant
+ FWF Project 2008-10
Tibetan Medicine in Exile: the ethics, politics and science of cultural survival
What do the struggle for Free Tibet, the Dalai Lama’s exile government, and the survival of Tibetan culture have to do with Tibetan medicine? A lot, if common exile Tibetan rhetoric is any indication: Taking assertions that Tibetan medicine “preserves Tibetan culture” and “reasserts the Tibetan nation” as a starting point, this project – funded by a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant, an FWF stand-alone project P20589-G15, and a Qayum Grant – investigated how a medical tradition and its herbal pills acquired not only clinical but also cultural and political efficacy, and what this means for Tibetan medicine as a whole.
Producing the first comprehensive ethnographic account of Tibetan medicine in exile, this study found that “healing” the fractured Tibetan nation is as much a medical matter as Tibetan medicine is a political affair. Tibetan medicine in exile cannot be understood independently from Tibetan culture and nationalism. Similarly, accounts of exile Tibetan politics and governance remain incomplete without paying serious attention to Tibetan medicine’s political role. Playing multiple and at times conflicting roles simultaneously – clinical, ethical, cultural, political, scientific – Tibetan medicine thus stands at the center of modern efforts to reshape Tibetan culture, diasporic governance, and nationhood.