Denise Glover on Karma in Tibetan Medicine

board_Board_DeniseThe SOAN department’s own Denise Glover recently delivered a lecture hosted by the Bioethics club here on campus, and the school’s newspaper provided this synopsis of the
event. Great work, Denise!

Compassion and Karma in Tibetan Medicine

By Angela Cookston

Denise Glover in the Sociology and Anthropology department gave a lecture hosted by the Bioethics Club on the concepts of compassion and karma in Tibetan medicine on Oct. 25.

Glover has done research in China’s Shangri-La province on the Tibetan medical industry and local knowledge of environment.

“Tibetan medicine, in particular, pulls a lot from Tibetan Buddhism,” Glover said. “So there are a lot of ideas that come from the religious tradition that are appropriated into the medical tradition. In fact, for a long time they weren’t really separate traditions at all.”

The medicinal tradition is based on indigenous knowledge of environment and written texts.

One of the most central texts is “The Four Tantras,” which was written mostly between the 11th and 12th centuries. “Doctors still use this,” Glover said. “It’s hard to find that kind of parallel in western medicine, for example. Who studies a text that old? They’re considered out of date. But in the Tibetan medical tradition, they’re seen as very central.”

Tibetan medicine uses Mahayana Buddhist figures as ideal images of what doctors should be. The Bodhisattva of Compassion, who are beings that could potentially reach enlightenment but choose to not to in order to help others, and the Medicine Buddha, who has all the knowledge of healing, are used in this way.

“In the medical tradition in Tibet, doctors are supposed to basically emulate this kind of being,” Glover said. “Not only do the doctors imagine themselves as the Medicine Buddha … but the patient will have to do a similar thing, which is to imagine the doctor as intricately connected to the medicine Buddha.”

Next, Tibetan medicine’s doctors see the body as a collection of three “humors.” “These things are considered as a combination of a substance and an energy,” Glover said.

The three humors are wind, bile and phlegm. “Each one of these is responsible for a different function in the body. So, for example, movement: wind is responsible for movement in the body. Bile is responsible for digestion. And phlegm is responsible for lubrication.”

When the three humors are balanced, a person is considered to be healthy. But an imbalance can cause problems.

In addition to causing physical problems, the humors can cause emotional or mental problems. “The humor of wind is linked to desire. Bile is linked to hatred. And phlegm is linked to closed-mindedness,” Glover said.

All of the humors have negative emotional effects on people. “In fact, you could argue from the Tibetan medical perspective that if you have a body, then you are likely to end up with some kind of imbalance,” Glover said. One could have too much desire, hatred and closed-mindedness.

“It’s almost like a very natural thing for people to get sick in this medical system,” Glover said. “It’s kind of different than other medical systems that state, you know, the natural state is a healthy state. Yeah, health is natural but so is illness in Tibetan medicine.”

The three humors can become imbalanced due to physical or emotional changes. Additionally, past negative actions, or bad karma, can cause illness.

“How can you tell if you’re sick because of humoral imbalance or because of karma?” Glover asked the room. “[Karma] is used to explain when things are not getting better. Like, the doctor is trying to figure out, trying to treat the patient and the treatments are not working.”

In Western medicine, this is similar to the concept of an idiopathic disease.

Tibetan medicine uses a slow-acting treatment process which can take months to heal the patient. If, after three different treatment plans, the patient is still ill, the doctor will diagnose their problem as karmic. Tibetan medicine doctors can’t treat karmic problems.

If a person is ill due to a karmic problem, they must go to a religious monk, who will help them attain spiritual balance once more. However, when the illness is due to karma from a past life, it is much more difficult and sometimes impossible to treat, since one can’t go back into their past life and fix the problem.

“To me what’s significant about these two ideas in Tibetan medicine is how both of these concepts really stress the agency of the patient. The patient actually has some responsibility in their own illness,” Glover said. “And then it also stresses, of course, the responsibility that the practitioner has to have good motivation. To really be wanting to help the person and not, for example, to be making a profit.”


Spotlight on the SOAN Department at UPS


Hi all,

I was recently asked to pen a description of the SOAN department, our curriculum, and how we go about training students in anthropology, for the newsletter of the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA). As you may know, students from Puget Sound have regularly attended the annual conference of the SfAA, where they’ve received numerous accolades and prizes for their work.

In this brief article, I provide an overview of our program, and also feature our current crop of seniors and the impressive constellation of independent research projects they’ve now commenced.

Please check it out!


An Academic Workshop in Singapore


In early 2017 I received an invitation from Dr Delphine Pagès-El Karoui (INALCO/Sorbonne) to join a small group of scholars in a collaborative workshop concerned with migrants and their experience(s) in the global city. I’ve just returned from the workshop, which was hosted by the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore, and I thought I’d briefly describe the fascinating papers and conversations threaded through this two-day meeting.

IMG_0865The workshop itself was organized around researchers’ and scholars’ effort to grasp how migrants experience global cities and similar conurbations, with a regional focus on cities in Europe, in the Middle East, and in Asia. My own paper, entitled Transnational Labor Migrants in the Urban Landscapes of Contemporary Arabia, considered how the largely western foundations of urban planning have shaped the stunningly modern cities of Arabia, and thereby play a significant role in the experiences of the many foreign workers who build, service, and dwell in those very same cities.

Others’ papers were fascinating. Amongst the most memorable: architect and professor Yasser Elsheshtawy’s exploration of how Bangladeshi labor migrants utilize forgotten and marginal spaces in Abu Dhabi; Laure Assaf (EHESS/Universite Paris-Nanterre) analyzed how Abu Dhabi’s image and its interstitial spaces were a recurring trope in the Arab migrant youth’s hip-hop and rap videos on social media; Masaki Matsuo (Utsunomiya University) reconsidered how Furnivall’s idea of a plural society — a segregated form of ethnic diversity — provides a frame for understanding social relations in many global cities and societies in this era of mobility; Brenda Yeoh (National University of Singapore) and Michelle Foong (Hwa Chong International School) considered how the proliferation of college campuses in East Asia provide a new sort of cosmopolitan contact zone for students. Numerous other papers were equally fascinating, and many were concerned with Singapore itself. And additionally, the series of NUS graduate student presentations and contributions to the workshop were extraordinarily impressive.

IMG_0879On the last day of the workshop, after Singaporean professors K. C. Ho (National University of Singapore) and Brenda Yeoh (National University of Singapore) led us on a tour of historic colonial era portion of the city, we had a memorably fantastic Malay dinner at Mamanda restaurant. Malay cuisine is one facet of the tripartite ethnic and cultural diversity that the Singaporean state seeks to integrate in the city: the city and state actively push to integrate residents of Chinese, Malay, and South Asian heritage. These efforts even shape neighbors and building design in public sector housing, where a majority of Singaporeans live.

I had a fantastic (albeit brief) stay, and I’m looking forward to another visit.


Professor Struna’s Talk Tomorrow!

struna 2The McIntyre Seminar Series

Inside the Human Exclusion Zone: Present and Future Landscapes of work and Automation in Warehousing and Logistics.

Jason Struna, Assistant Professor of Sociology

struna 1Wednesday, October 25
12:00 Noon
McIntyre 107

Are you intrigued or concerned by the increasingly common automation of human tasks via robotics in the workplace? Should you be? Professor Jason Struna will speak tomorrow about his research, which explores the social impacts of technologies used in the direction and management of work, and touches upon the labor process, the movement of goods, and social class dynamics in the global era.

Please join us! Bring your lunch — we’ll provide cookies for dessert.

Anthony Hoffman’s Senior Thesis Project

[Seniors in the SOAN department have the opportunity of pursuing a field-based research project that culminates in a senior thesis. I’ve asked our seniors to briefly describe the research project they are beginning to configure for fieldwork in the remainder of our academic year.]


The US Prison System is a complex web of relationships between various state institutions and private entities. These diverse actors–from private companies who make specialized goods for use in the prisons to legislators to prison guards–have overlapping goals and intentions, and different understandings of how and why the system exists in the first place. Is the prison’s primary purpose to punish, to rehabilitate, to turn a profit, or something else entirely? It really depends who you ask. More importantly, how does this network of considerations manifest in practice? How these tensions play out directly impact the lives of people in prison; these individuals experience the final product of so many political choices, of all of these systems, institutions, private entities, and other forces, coming together.

But what happens when prisoners reenter society? The vast majority of people who are currently incarcerated will eventually return to their communities but they do not leave the system unchanged. Those who have been incarcerated are likely to be impacted by the experience itself but on the most basic level, they return to society with a publicly accessible criminal record. This alone has a huge impact on employment opportunities and often their visibility in the community to law enforcement. It seems punishment doesn’t cease entirely when citizens physically leave the walls of the prison.

On the other hand, incarceration can also interrupt destructive cycles in the lives of individuals. We are familiar with redemption stories of people who go to prison and begin educating themselves or encounter something fundamentally life changing that leads that person to refocus their intentions, the Malcolm Xs so to speak. It is not my intent to romanticize this, because these stories are truly the exception rather than the norm. The US Criminal Justice System has incredibly high rates of recidivism. But surely these cases occur, and I think it’s fair to say that most people involved with “Corrections” would like to find meaningful ways to lower recidivism rates.

What factors allow a select few to break the “revolving door” cycle? Should we expand access to therapeutic programs? Educational programs? Vocational training? Does the system need to be harsher still to deter people from committing crimes? What actually makes a difference in people’s lives on the inside and beyond and what is the system accomplishing? At what point does punishment stop? Does the system criminalize behaviors or does it criminalize people, marking them permanently as second class citizens? The public accessibility of a criminal record alone could be considered a form of punishment that follows a person long after their formal sentences have ended, though some would argue a person’s criminal record is important public knowledge related to public safety.

Through an ethnographic study of formerly incarcerated citizens, I will explore how this experience impacts life outside the prison. In addition to semi-structured interviews, I incorporate participant observation, drawing upon my experiences volunteering with at least one organization that operates a program for prisoners outside the prison walls in conjunction with a local corrections facility. Though I am involved with one organization that operates within a local prison, for specific reasons I will not incorporate any experiences I have had volunteering with any programs that operate inside the walls of the prison into my research. I examine the consequences of being labeled an “ex-con” and whether or not various kinds of programs within prisons can improve opportunities for individuals upon reentry, counteracting some of the social handicaps that come with the legal status as a felon.

Katie Shammel’s Senior Thesis Project

[Seniors in the SOAN department have the opportunity of pursuing a field-based research project that culminates in a senior thesis. I’ve asked our seniors to briefly describe the research project they are beginning to configure for fieldwork in the remainder of our academic year.]

A hundred miles across Interstate 90, just on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountain range, one finds a small, rural predominantly white town with deep cultural and economic ties embedded in the traditions of the West. Despite its proximity to the chiefly blue city of Seattle, this county persists as a Republican center of Trump politics, with political representation that consistently opposes the progressive ideologies of nearby urban areas. Within this community exists a mobile home community; a small cohort of low-income, hard-working, primarily Latino families that labor in minimum wage positions to help propel the local economy and provide for their families. Due to the lack of economic opportunities in the area, many of these Latino families are unable to afford their own homes, and resort to renting plots of land in the mobile home community to create a place to call their own. In April of 2016, tenants of these plots were devastated to learn that the local county government had negotiated a sale agreement of the land that their homes reside on, purportedly to accommodate fairground space for the annual county fair. The community effectively faced impending eviction.

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetMy ethnographic research seeks to explore the unfolding local housing crisis taking place in this trailer park in rural Washington, and to assess the social processes that construct the ethnic and minoritized experience in America. Other analyses of similar populations have pointed to structural violence and marginalization as a significant factor shaping the lived experience and sense of identity that typify minoritized individuals in rural communities across the nation (Wells, 1975). I plan to speak with residents of the mobile home community, their institutional allies, and county representatives to investigate whether the experiences of this predominantly Latino mobile home community are consistent with the narratives of other marginalized populations in rural areas. Through the use of semi-structured interviews conducted in both English and Spanish, I hope to reveal many of the significant social and cultural processes related to race and ethnicity that take place in rural America but are continuously overlooked in sociology and the national dialogue concerning race in our country.

Kathryn Stutz’s Senior Thesis Project

[Seniors in the SOAN department have the opportunity of pursuing a field-based research project that culminates in a senior thesis. I’ve asked our seniors to briefly describe the research project they are beginning to configure for fieldwork in the remainder of our academic year.]

Kathryn 01

Kathryn Stutz outside the Museum of London, standing near the remains of the ancient Roman city walls.

During the summer of 2014 – the summer after my first year studying anthropology at the University of Puget Sound – I worked as a docent at a small Egyptian museum in my then-hometown of San Jose, California. The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, housed in a replica Egyptian temple surrounded by rose gardens, was packed with mummies, gilded sarcophagi, and sleek granite sculptures of goddesses, but one museum object that only our most observant visitors noticed was a square piece of carved stone, which was affixed to the ceiling at the top of a stairwell. This was not a ‘true artifact’ – it was a plaster cast of the ‘real thing,’ the famous Dendera Zodiac ceiling-carving. Casts were common at our small, private museum – any object with a green information plaque was not authentic, but rather a copy of an original which another museum held. Although I had learned during training to tell visitors “if it has a green plaque it’s a copy,” it only occurred to me later that I knew very little about where in the world most of the original artifacts were actually kept, and I resolved to find out more.

My initial research into the Dendera Zodiac led me to a disturbing story: the actual Zodiac can be found at the Louvre in Paris, because a French antiques dealer had, in the 1800s, used saws and gunpowder to remove it from the Egyptian temple into which it had been built and to carry it back to France. At that time, I was reading a book called Finders Keepers: A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession – a fascinating, if somewhat sensationalizing, popular account of the theft of Native American artifacts from sites in the American Southwest. These parallel stories, showing the ways in which archaeological material has been stolen and stored away, fascinated me and inspired a series of undergraduate anthropological research projects into the complex world of museum collections. I wanted to know what would bring someone to go to such lengths to take possession of an artifact, removing it from its archaeological context or from its rightful owners.

Kathryn 02

Kathryn holding a bronze bull’s head artifact at the British Museum.

There’s something almost magical about a physical object, an artifact, a tool or a ceramic that someone crafted with their own hands, perhaps a very long time ago. The power of artifacts is why we’re drawn to museums – for the chance to be in the presence of objects with history. But this attraction to the past can turn into a dangerous sort of greed to possess these objects – even at the expense of their own longevity. The Dendera Zodiac remained in good condition in Egypt for over a thousand years; when it was removed by the French, both the zodiac relief and the temple in which it stood retained gunpowder damage. Our love of artifacts can be what destroys them.

Yet modern museums are valuable teaching tools, places for people to have contact with objects – sometimes even physical contact, through ‘touch tables’ and experiential educational programs. This year, I will be conducting a thesis investigation into the ways museums balance the often contradictory interests of preservation, education, and use regarding their physical collections, and how the often problematic history of the museum as an institution contributes to the narratives museums present as ‘keepers of culture.’ I will be interviewing museum staff, stakeholders, and visitors, as well as visiting museums myself and digging into the history of museums through historical documents. For hundreds of years, museums have been a way cities, states, nations, and the world define their identities – and now, we can begin to better understand our own modern identities by looking back to the histories of collection and curation embodied in the museum space.