Sowa Rigpa: The Science of Healing as Local Practice, National Heritage, and Global Brand

April 4, 2017 - 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm
Sienna Craig

Often translated as ‘the science of healing’ (sowa rigpa), Tibetan medicine is at once a diverse system of healing with ancient roots extending out from the Tibetan Plateau and a modern, globalizing ‘alternative’ therapeutics.

The contemporary practice of Tibetan medicine is enmeshed within multiple, and sometimes conflicting, agendas: from the need to conserve medicinal plants on which Tibetan pharmacology depends, to developing a Tibetan pharmaceutical industry as a method of economic development; from the need to integrate with public health and forms of biomedicine to the need to retain its unique approach to healing. Practitioners strive to maintain the practice’s cultural authenticity, including connections to Tibetan Buddhism.
At the same time, Tibetan medicine stakes claims as efficacious science through clinical research. Its therapies are at once forms of cultural knowledge shared across generations and valuable commodities, increasingly regulated by biomedical production standards, intellectual property regimes, and the desires of a consuming public in Asia and beyond.
This talk engages these points of tension, discussing how Tibetan medicine remains at once a crucial form of local health care across Tibetan communities, a manifestation of national identity, and, increasingly, a globally available form of ‘traditional’ medicine in the 21st century.

Sienna Craig is a professor of cultural anthropology at Dartmouth College, invested in understanding the multiple ways that so-called 'traditional' medical systems interact with biomedicine: from patient-healer relationships and the cultural meanings people ascribe to suffering and affliction; to the wider socioeconomic and political circumstances in which medical practitioners are trained, healing occurs, and medicines are produced, evaluated, and distributed.
Over the past decade, Prof. Craig has been investigating contemporary Tibetan medicine, both in Nepal and Tibetan areas of China and as a globalizing "complementary and alternative" medicine. She analyzes how practitioners of Tibetan medicine transmit knowledge between generations, and how they are professionalizing. She also address the translation of science across cultural, epistemological, and ideological borders by documenting what happens when Tibetan medicines are made to adhere to biomedical standards of drug safety and quality, and as they are evaluated through clinical research in Asia and the West.

Event co-sponsored by the Franklin Humanities Institute, the FHI Health Humanities Lab, and the FHI Story Lab at Duke.

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  • Asian/Pacific Studies Institute

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