Areas of interest
- Classical Indian Medicine
- body and gender
- ancient India
Research project: Gender in the Compendium of Caraka. Dynamics and conflicts of medical and religious knowledge in ancient India
As historical Indian sources between 300 BC and 600 AD, the Sanskrit Compendia of Classical Indian medicine seem to indicate a kernel of secularity in the otherwise religious world of India. This interpretation of the foundational documents of early Āyurveda is presupposed to be based on their materialistic framing of health and disease, the empirical base of their reasoning and a rational systematisation of their findings towards a general medical theory that led to the professionalisation of āyurvedic physicians. Thus, passages in the Compendia that were not fashioned after this constitutive paradigm of modern Western medicine are isolated and disregarded as irrational and unscientific interferences of religion. As a result, the early Sanskrit sources of Indian medicine tend to be explained, classified and ideologised as (proto-)medicine that are actively distorted and tampered with by the irrational and religious pre-eminence of Brāhmans who struggled with secularity.
The PhD thesis challenges this superimposed interpretation of the origin of Āyurveda by illustrating how the artificial disruption of the medical texts and theory obscures historical āyurvedic concepts instead of shedding light on them. Focussing on the construction of body and gender in the first pillar of āyurvedic medicine, the ‘Compendium of Caraka’, the PhD thesis will show how the culturally constructed sexed and gendered body can only be adequately understood by discarding the Western analytical tool of separating empirico-scientific medicine and irrational religion. Instead, by focusing on the process of the construction of a culturally intelligible concept of body and gender it will be illustrated how the emic discourse on medicine (āyurveda) and its related semantic field dynamically interacts with the emic discourse on religion (dharma) and both finally coalesce in the āyurvedic knowledge. Thus, the analytical question of whether the ‘Compendium of Caraka’ is more a religious or a secular document, and the according structuring and constructing of historical India, is wrongly framed. Instead we should explore how the emic analogue concepts of religion and medicine interact on an explicit and implicit level and what their dynamics and conflicts can tell us about the history of early Āyurveda.