BLUE BUDDHA: TIBETAN MEDICINE IN CONTEMPORARY RUSSIA (ST PETERSBURG AND MOSCOW)

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Ilona Manevskaia

Abstract

This thesis focuses on the socio-cultural and anthropological aspects of Tibetan medicine in contemporary Russia and investigates how Tibetan medicine is practised, consumed and represented in two major Russian cities, Moscow and St Petersburg. It is the first case-study of such kind in the context of Russian culture, as the anthropological aspects of Tibetan medicine in contemporary Russia have not yet been the subject of a systematic research. Up till now, scholarly publications on Tibetan medicine in Russia have dealt either with the translation and textual analysis of ancient Tibetan medical treatises or with the history of the first appearance of Tibetan medicine in Buriatia, the traditionally Buddhist region of Russia, and St Petersburg / Petrograd, paying little attention to contemporary developments and, most importantly, ignoring how Tibetan practitioners and their patients are making sense of Tibetan medicine. Based on twenty four interviews with practitioners and consumers of Tibetan medicine in the two Russian capitals, my research fills in this lacuna by looking at personal experiences, perceptions and accounts of my interviewees and exploring how they adapt Tibetan medicine to their skills, beliefs and ideas. My approach to sources is informed by Iurii Lotman's theory of intercultural communication. Although this theory was developed by Lotman for the analyses of the processes of cultural reception of literary texts, it is also relevant, with some modifications, for the analysis of the process of reception of non-textual cultural forms. The analysis of data collected from interviews with doctors and patients and the textual analysis of media, cinematic and literary sources has revealed two dominant trends and representational techniques. The first trend amounts to representing Tibetan medicine as unique and exotic, while the second trend amounts to the conceiving of Tibetan medicine as Russia's indigenous tradition, a part of Russian history, which had been subverted and suppressed in the Soviet period, yet rediscovered post-1991. Thus, we see here a co-existence of the inter-cultural dialogue between Russian culture and an exotic 'other' and the intra-cultural dialogue with a recently rediscovered part of 'self'. Both trends, which, at first glance, might appear to stand in contradiction to each other, sometimes coexist within a single explanatory narrative. The thesis also focuses on inter-cultural interactions between doctors and patients. It is argued that these interactions take place in the context of a noteworthy sociological and cultural phenomenon that the thesis calls 'mutual counter-adaptation'. Mutual counter-adaptation is the key mechanism used, consciously or spontaneously, by Tibetan doctors and their patients in order to facilitate the process of understanding between the parties involved in an inter-cultural dialogue around Tibetan medicine. The thesis finally reveals how this mutual counter-adaption takes place within a wider Russian cultural and media environment which exploits a set of specific symbols and images in order to make Tibetan medicine comprehensible and attractive to the wider Russian public.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Award date1 Aug 2012