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Joseph Alter, "Yoga as Nature Cure: Modernity, Medicine and the Political Ecology of Bodies"

When May 11, 2015
from 04:00 PM to 06:00 PM
Where Andrews Conference Room
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A cultural history of yoga’s development in South Asia shows how the body has been implicated in the politics of nationalism, science and medicine throughout the 20th century. The argument presented here is that if the scope of analysis is broadened to a global scale, which is not delimited by colonialism, one gains a better perspective on this politics, and a clearer understanding of some of the contradictions attendant on the body’s cultural history. Yoga in modern India has most certainly been medicalized in terms of science and a discourse of scientific modernity, as well in terms that involved the “sanitization” and secularization of its exotic, esoteric and erotic antecedents. However, yoga fits logically into the rubric of nature cure, as this form of radical, revolutionary, alternative medicine emerged as an aspect of a global political ecology of the body in the early 20th century. We can more clearly understand class distinctions and aspirations, alienation and public health issues in the yoga projects of Swami Sivananda, Shri Yogendra, and Swami Kuvalayananda – the chief architects of medicalized practice in India -- if we understand what they were doing in terms of a global political ecology of the body and health. Further, this helps us understand how and why we can understand yoga as nature cure in contemporary practice.

Joseph S. Alter received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in 1989. His research specialization is in medical anthropology with interests in the relationship between religion, nationalism, health and the body in South Asia. He is currently involved in a project to study the relationship between nature cure, ecology and worldviews in contemporary India. He is the author of widely acclaimed books such as The Wrestler's Body, Yoga in Modern India, Moral Materialism, Knowing Dil Das, Gandhi's Body, and Asian Medicine and Globalization, besides many, many articles.

This event is sponsored by the Davis Humanities Institute (DHI), Anthropology, Middle East/South Asia Studies Program, Science and Technology Studies (STS), the Graduate Group in Religion, and South Asia Matters.

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