Context and aims

Although a growing body of academic literature documents the historical trajectories and contemporary dynamics of Asian medical traditions, few studies have observed in ‘real-time’ the early stages of the integration of such a tradition into state structures. Despite a global shift towards more heterodox approaches to healthcare, many important questions about such integration processes remain unanswered. Integrating Traditional Medicine seeks to fill this gap by examining the reconfiguration of Sowa Rigpa (Tibetan medicine) in India following its official recognition in 2010, and specifically by focusing on relationships between state bodies and Sowa Rigpa institutions.

Research questions

How does a formerly marginalized medical tradition gain official legitimacy and become integrated into state structures?
What interactions are taking place between representatives of Sowa Rigpa and branches of the Indian state?
How are integration processes understood, experienced and reacted to by differently positioned practitioners and groups?

Approach and Methods

The research questions will be approached via three distinct yet interlinked domains of enquiry: the association, the clinic and the pharmacy. These correspond to major fields in which Sowa Rigpa is interacting with the Indian state as integration processes play out. Data will be gathered using anthropology’s signature methodology of ethnographic fieldwork. The researchers will spend extended periods of time at key Sowa Rigpa institutions and with a broad range of individual practitioners and pharmacists, engaging in participant observation, interviews and events. Due to ongoing Covid-related restrictions and to the fast-moving nature of the topic, field research will be combined with ‘digital ethnography’ methods, using social media to follow developments and gather reactions to them throughout the project period.

Project team

Dr. Calum Blaikie is the Project Leader and will focus primarily on developments taking place in Ladakh, notably at the National Institute for Sowa Rigpa and Central Institute for Buddhist Studies. As a contributing researcher, Dr. Stephan Kloos will focus on Tibetan exile institutions in India, notably the Men-Tsee-Khang and Central Council for Tibetan Medicine based in Dharamsala. Dr. Chithprabha Kudlu joins the team as a post-doctoral researcher and will work mainly with Indian governmental bodies, such as the Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha, Sowa Rigpa and Homeopathy (AYUSH). 

Originality and innovation

This project is uniquely positioned to follow integration processes as they actually unfold in real time, as well as to document the experiences and reactions of a broad cross-section of practitioners, institutional staff and state actors to the developments underway. The project will make an innovative, relevant, timely and comparative contribution to the anthropological literature concerning Asian medical traditions, while contributing empirically and theoretically to wider debates concerning governance, policy processes, minority-state relations, marginality and social change. It thus holds strong potential to produce results that will resonate across the social sciences and in a variety of applied fields.

Project leader:
Calum Blaikie

01.09.2021 - 31.08.2024

FWF (P 34010-G) - Stand-Alone project