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Subproject A5

Ritual Healing and its Critics

Department and Research Field: Anthropology
Subproject A5 has been concluded June 30, 2009.

Subproject Management

Prof. Dr. William Sax


South Asia Institute

Department of Anthropology

Im Neuenheimer Feld 330

69120 Heidelberg  


Phone: +49 (0) 6221 – 54 88 36

Fax: +49 (0) 6221 – 54 49 98


Ferdinand Okwaro M.A.

Project Program

In India, just like in many other places in the world, traditional systems of ritual healing have become the subject of massive criticism for “modernity” and its representatives. In a process that began with the colonial medical policy and that intensified through the rising discursive power of biomedicine, ritual healing is defined as “superstitious”, “unscientific”, and “backwardly”. Religious reformers, which we also regard as representatives of “modernity”, often oppose practices of ritual healing, denouncing them as “idolatrous” and “degenerated”.


Most industrial economic organizations are in opposition to practices of ritual healing and many “modern” people (such as rural-urban migrants, educated people, and scientists) are no longer used to the ritual practices of their ancestors, ceased believing in them or simply forgot about them. A series of anthropological investigations has nevertheless shown that healing rituals are often “effective” and thrive all over the world.


How can we explain these processes? How does the “effectiveness” of the rituals contribute to their survival? Who defines their “effectiveness” and by which criteria?


In this subproject, we suggest the investigation of two healing systems in India. We will investigate how the systems under examination seize the challenges of modernity and we will examine the role of local understanding of “effectiveness” in this process.


Both the submitter and his researcher concentrate on the issue of how systems of ritual healing embrace religious and natural scientific criticism as well as altered surrounding conditions. The former researches the proposed topic in the context of peasant Hindus in North India, the latter in a Christianized tribal society in North-East India.

Main Topics

A5.1 Ritual change in a traditional healing system (Researcher: Prof. William S. Sax)


A5.2 Ritual healing with the Naga (Researcher: Berit Fuhrmann, M.A.)