Associate Professor of Religious Studies
“Tibetan Medicine, Spirit Afflictions, and the Environment in China”
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
12:30pm – C103 Hesburgh Center
For centuries, the religious beliefs of Tibet’s cultures have been closely connected with a sense of geography and an immediate relationship to an animistic natural environment comprised of a host of demons and spirits. This complex of relations has often shaped indigenous identity and the administration of Tibetan society. Keeping order with an environment of benevolent and malevolent figures is based on a platform of respect and honor, manifested ritually and pervading all sectors of life: society, temple, home, hospital, and political spaces.
In the contemporary context, such an outlook—at least on a medical and social level—is often described as Tibetans’ inclination to be “environmental.” With environmental and other construction projects imposed by the Chinese state in the last several years, Tibetans’ sense of control over their environment has been disturbed, thereby resulting in social subversion and more importantly in disruption of public health as evidenced in the rise of spirit afflictions.
Through the lens of medical practices, this talk addresses how spirit afflictions point to an increasingly prominent and widespread response by Tibetans that may be read as a sign of their privileged sense of order with their environment.
Ivette Vargas-O’Bryan (PhD, Harvard University) is chair and associate professor of Asian religious traditions in the Department of Religious Studies, Austin College, Texas. Her research interests include the interface of Buddhist traditions and medicine in South Asia, Tibet and China; illness and notions of suffering in Buddhist and Hindu traditions; visual culture and Buddhist philosophy; and digital humanities. She has conducted research and fieldwork in Nepal, India, China, and Tibet as well as among Tibetan communities living in the United States.