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Accepted Paper:

Causation and Protection During Pandemic Crises: Health, Prophecy, and More-than-human Relations in Phushar Village, Bhutan  
Barbara Gerke (University of Vienna)

Paper Short Abstract:

Exploring reciprocal relationships between humans, the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and deities in Phushar village, Paro, Bhutan, during the COVID-19 pandemic, this study reveals how historical and prophetic narratives shape community responses to crises.

Paper Abstract:

This paper explores the intricate relationships between humans and local deities (Tsen, Gyal) in Pusha village, Bhutan, in the context of health and ecological (im)balance during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this Himalayan community, surrounded by nine temples, villagers engage in complex reciprocal relationships with divine entities to mitigate health crises and environmental disparities. In collaboration with Yeshi Samdrup, Norbuling Rigter College, this study examines ethnographically how offerings to deities, organized by the village head and private owners of the temples, served as crucial interventions against the virus, reflecting broader cosmopolitical engagements with both enlightened and unenlightened beings.

The narrative of divine protection intertwines with oral histories of past epidemics, end-time prophecies attributed to Padmasambhava, and divinatory expressions from the Gyal statue. These varied ways of prophesizing and negotiating calamities frame the pandemic as part of ongoing ecological and spiritual crises, prompting a reevaluation of human-nonhuman relations. The study argues that these interactions are not merely responses to immediate threats but are part of longstanding ethical and ritual practices highlighting the intertwined relationships between people and their deities in contemporary crises responses.

By focusing on the role of spiritual entities in health and ecological management, this research advances our understanding of how relational ontologies and local cosmopolitics shape health practices amid global environmental changes. It suggests that the liminality of more-than-human entities, such as viruses and divine beings, creates a dynamic field where health, disease, and ecology intersect, demonstrating the significance of spiritual and community responses in contemporary disaster management.

Panel OP115
Health and more-than-human entanglements
  Session 1 Thursday 18 July, 2024, -