Accepted paper:

We treat only quiet psychotics! The encounter of psychiatry and religion - the case of Gunaseelam temple (South India)


Marie-Caroline Saglio-Yatzimirsky (EHESS, INALCO)
Brigitte Sebastia (French Institute of Pondicherry)

Paper short abstract:

Based on a fieldwork conducted in a South Indian temple well known for its therapeutical power and where a psychiatric center has recently opened in order to treat psychotics, this paper aims at questioning the consequences of such a diagnoses and of such a healing proposal.

Paper long abstract:

In India, due to national policies to improve mental healthcare, bio-psychiatry has begun to enter traditional sites of faith healing such as temples and dargahs. Gunaseelam near Tiruchirapalli (Tamil Nadu) offers an example of a traditional space of religious healing which is challenged by a community-based rehabilitation centre that opened in 2003 inside the compound of the temple. The patients with mental illness are examined by psychiatrists and, according to their symptoms, they are admitted into the clinic with their caregivers. For forty-eight days (auspicious period), they have to take part to the temple's rituals (pūja 'ritual of offerings', darśan 'divine vision', tīrttam 'holy water') and, in parallel, to attend the three consultations per week. The clinic accepts only patients with schizophrenia and personality troubles who are provided with medication according to the diagnosis established by the psychiatrists who refer to the western nosological nomenclature. Based on an anthropological fieldwork conducted since 2012, this paper aims at questioning the consequences of such diagnoses. It analyses the different representations of illness, and the way individuals subjectively deal with different explanatory models of mental illness. It also investigates how patients and caregivers perceive and feel the therapeutic effects of both religious and psychiatric healing systems.

panel P33
Constructing diagnosis in 'mental health': the negotiation of categories, the encounter of subjectivities in South Asia