Diana Riboli


This course explores medical systems in different cultural contexts. Students will engage in analysis and investigation of ethnomedical systems such as shamanism, healing systems in different oral cultures, alternative and complementary medical systems (with particular emphasis to Chinese medicine and Ayurveda). The course will also introduce the students to medical pluralism, ethnopsychiatry, and ethnobotany.

Starting from the fact that biomedicine can be considered the main ethnomedical system of industrialized and mostly western countries, the lessons will present cases of conflicts, acceptance and/or collaboration between different medical systems, in the global world. 


Important note:

This collection of articles and extracts from academic works is meant as educational support for the winter semester course “Ethnomedicine”, Department of Social Anthropology, Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, in accordance with Articles 19 and 21 of Law. 2121/1993 on “Copyright

Course code: TMH182
Category: Κοινωνικής Ανθρωπολογίας » Προπτυχιακό
CC - Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives
CC - Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives

Course Units


General Introduction. What is ethnomedicine? Historical overview, concepts, theories and reflections of ethnomedicine.


Indicative Readings: Text 1. Rubel, Arthur J. and Hass, Michael R. (1990), Ethnomedicine. In Johnson, Thomas M. and Sargent, Carolyn F., Medical Anthropology. A Handbook of Theory and Method, Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut: 115-131


When nature does not differ from culture. Oral cultures’ ethnomedical systems with particular emphasis on egalitarian hunter-gatherer groups. The birth of medical systems. Perceptions about diseases’ 'natural' and 'non-natural' causes. Egalitarianism, well-being and therapy. The personal, collective and cosmic body as a whole. The case of Kung (Africa)

Screening of the documentary «N / um Tchai. The Ceremonial Dance of the Kung Bushmen »(John Marshall, 1969, 20 minutes)

Ghosts, medicinal plants and paracetamol. Violence, power and conflict between modernity and tradition. "Old", "new" and "modern" diseases in Batek and Jahai ethnic groups (Orang Asli, Malaysia).

Audiovisual material from field investigations.


Indicative Readings:

Text 3. Katz, Richard (1982), Accepting "Boiling Energy". The Experience of! Kia-Healing among the! Kung. ETHOS 10 (4): 344-368

Text 4. Riboli, Diana (2012), «People without jungle are dying people." Health and Illness in Semang-Negrito (Malaysia). In Economou, H. and Spyridakis, M., Anthropological and Sociological Approaches to Health, Editions Sideris, Athens: 333-357 (in Greek)


The ethnobotany and the entrance of herbal medicines in the global market. Who has the knowledge and who benefits? Recent ethnomedical discussions about cultural knowledge, cultural / intellectual property and biopiracy.


Indicative Readings: Text 5. Wayland, Coral (2003), Contextualizing the Politics of Knowledge: Physicians' Attitudes toward Medicinal Plants. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 17 (4): 483-500


Ethnopsychiatry and culture-bound syndromes with particular emphasis on amok, latah, koro, susto and evil eye.

Indicative Readings: Text 2. Hughes, Charles C., (1990), Ethnopsychiatry. In Johnson, Thomas M. and Sargent, Carolyn F., Medical Anthropology. A Handbook of Theory and Method, Greenwood Press, New York, pp. 132-148 Text 6. Veikou, Christina (2004), Evil Eye. The Social Construction of Visual Communication, Greek Letters, Athens: 291-339

(in greek)


Symbolic healing through a process of deconstruction and reconstruction of the mythical worlds of patient, therapist and social body. Shamanism and the sociopolitical role of the religious specialist / healer.

What is shamanism? Story of an elusive definition. Main elements and similarities among different shamanic systems.

The social and therapeutic role of altered states of consciousness (ASC) in shamanic healing.

A challaging approach: indigenous cultures’ perceptions on the visible and invisible elements which constitute a human being, in the light of recent theories of neuroscience.

Audiovisual material from the field.


Riboli, Diana (2008 [2000]), Tunsuriban. Anthropological Study of shamanism of Chepang South and Central Nepal Papazisis, Athens (textbook of the course. Available also in English language)



Alternative eastern medical systems. The oxymoron of medical systems representing "tradition" and "authenticity" in their home countries, and "modernity" when integrated into western biomedical or other therapeutic frame. The example of Ayurveda

Projection of the documentary «Ayurveda: Art of Being» (Pan Nalin, 2001, 101 minutes, with Greek subtitles)

Indicative Readings: Text 7. Langford, Jean M. (2002), Fluent Bodies. Ayurvedic Remedies for Postcolonial Imbalance, Duke University Press: 1-24


Medical pluralism. Contact, collaborations and conflicts of various medical and therapeutic systems in the era of globalization. Analysis of different case study in a pre-industrial and industrial societies.

Indicative Readings: Text 8. Crandon, Libbet (1986), Medical Dialogue and the Political Economy of Medical Pluralism: A Case from Rural Highland Bolivia. American Ethnologist 13 (3): 463-476



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