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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences - Institute of Asian and African Studies

DFG Project: Detoxification and Rejuvenation Processes

Dr. Barbara Gerke


Therapeutic Rejuvenation Processes and Pharmacological Detoxification Methods in Contemporary Tibetan Medicine in India and Nepal:
A Critical Analysis of Cultural Translations through Ethnographic Case Studies and Classical Medical Texts on Vitality, Toxicity, and Aging


In Tibetan medicine, notions of vitality and rejuvenation are directly linked to physical purification therapies as well as to the pharmacological detoxification of medicinal substances used for rejuvenating the body. This project examines, through ethnographic case studies and original translations of classical medical texts, ideas and practices concerning therapeutic rejuvenation processes and pharmacological detoxification methods of medicinal ingredients used in Tibetan medicine for revitalisation and anti-aging. Relying on theoretical approaches from Translation Studies and Anthropology, the project critically analyses how Tibetan medical doctors and pharmacologists, who are increasingly exposed to biomedicine in contemporary India and Nepal, inter- and trans-culturally translate and reinterpret medical concepts of traditional Tibetan and biomedical epistemologies in both directions. Methodologically, this research combines textual analysis with ethnographic fieldwork in Dharamsala and in focus studies in Sarnath and Kathmandu, where doctors and pharmacologists of Tibetan medicine practise today. The aim is to understand analogous, culture-specific ideas that lie at the basis of rejuvenating processes and detoxification methods, answering questions such as what is 'toxic' and what is 'pure' in relation to physical vitality and longevity. This research will be of academic, medical, and social relevance. It is especially interesting in the context of current controversies involving toxicity and heavy metal contamination of globally marketed Asian elixirs and tonics. Results, published as a monograph and in articles in peer-reviewed journals, will provide an original in-depth contribution to the current debate on socio-culturally constructed ideas of aging, vitality, and toxicity in Asian medical systems.