Accepted paper:

The local in the universal and the universal as local: the Hanuman Chalisa in German psychosomatic medicine


Harish Naraindas (Jawaharlal Nehru University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper intends to interrogate the categories of the local and the universal, both with respect to nosology and aetiology, through an ethnography of psychosomatic medicine in a German Reha Klinik.

Paper long abstract:

This paper intends to call into question the presumptive conceits of Euro-American anthropology, particularly as it pertains to what it calls "mental illness". Anthropology often functions as the handmaiden and distant double of psychiatry at "home", collecting curious tales of possession, exorcism and healing as it traverses the world away from home, with the home always imagined as a Euro-American navel, and the addressee implicitly presumed to be one's peers and the public in this narcissistic navel. One example of this narcissism, without any sense of irony or embarrassment, is called "medical anthropology at home". One of the many side-effects of this narcissism is to be blind to two possibilities: that there are enough tales of the curious kind at home and, either this has always been the case, or close to two centuries of curio collecting has so infected and inflected the categories at home that the other has come home to roost. This paper will wrestle with both these possibilities by ethnographically examining German psychosomatic medicine and its penchant for past-life aetiologies brought about by inducing trance through breathing and breath work, and through the playing of exotic Hindu music like the Hanuman Chalisa. It will then proceed to ask whether "universal psychiatric categories" have been inflected if not infected by the "local", or whether all universals are nothing other than the local, and doubly so as in the German case these exotic aetiologies and their attendant therapies are paid for by socialised health insurance, especially the Beihilfe.

panel P101
Collaboration between psychiatry and anthropology: nosological and etiological challenges