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Title: Healing by a national nature in 'disorganized' Mongolia
Author: Turk, Elizabeth Hunter
ISNI:       0000 0004 7225 1917
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2017
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This dissertation explores entanglements of body, national identity and nature in contemporary Mongolia. The project is situated within the rising popularity of natural remedies and alternative medicine during a time described as disorganized (zambaraagui) and disorderly. Data was collected from 33 months of fieldwork in Ulaanbaatar and elsewhere, focused on non-biomedical practices and therapeutic landscapes, especially medicinal springs (arshaan) and their sanatoria. This work contributes to studies of post-socialist Mongolia in a few ways. The methodological decision to engage in interview and participant observation of fortunetellers (üzmerch), practitioners of Buddhist and traditional medicine (otoch, ardiin emch), astrologists (zurhaich), energy healers (bio energich), shamans (böö, zairan, udgan), enlightened lamas (huvilgaan) and massage therapists (bariach) was driven by the fluid approach with which patients approach fulfilling the needs of their health and wellbeing. Such fluidity was also echoed in healing practice; as opposed to bounded by strict conceptual distinctions, healers re-purposed personally and culturally-familiar techniques, ranging from biomedical to those of Buddhist medicine (sowa rigpa) to occult practices. Many of the same techniques were practiced by a range of practitioners. The term orthopraxy, commonality of practice across conceptual difference, is used to address this phenomena. Such pairing together of different kinds of therapies – biomedical or otherwise – calls into question a “traditional” vs. modern or neo-spiritual framework within which such practices are often cast. I employ Robbin’s anthropology of discontinuity (2003), suggesting that Soviet influences represented “hard” cultural forms that provided a partial rupture in cultural knowledge between pre-revolutionary society and 1990. Nature (baigal) and natural surroundings (baigal orchin) were concepts often raised when discussing health and wellbeing. “Spiritual” earth and mountain masters (gazariin/uuliin ezed) of estranged homelands (nutag) that cause illness in families relocated to Ulaanbaatar; the water, flora, and mutton from one’s homeland as especially medicinally-suited to the body; shamans empowered to heal by appropriating into their practices the worship of nationally-significant mountains: territorialized national identity represented a prominent trend in healing practices. The revering of a nation through natural landmarks I call national nature, and suggest it be seen both with respect to romantic and utilitarian conceptions of a therapeutic nature that underpinned Soviet medicine, and Soviet indigenization campaigns and the ethnonationalism that was encouraged to flourish in borderland republics. Affective rooting to natural landmarks to maintain or restore wellbeing was also a way to enact Mongol-ness, rendering healing the body at once a practice of national subject-making.
Supervisor: Sneath, David Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Mongolia ; healing ; post-socialism ; nationalism ; shamanism ; alternative medicine ; re-enchantment ; wonderment ; nature ; post-Soviet ; divination ; orthopraxy ; anthropology of discontinuity ; disorganization ; morality ; Tibetan Buddhism ; ethno-nationalism ; therapeutic landscapes