Department of Religious Studies

Martha Selby

Ph.D., University of Chicago

Professor and Chair, Department of Asian Studies
Martha Selby



Representations of women in Indian religions | religion and medicine | religious poetry of India


R S 394T • Body In Indian Medicine & Myth

43695 • Fall 2011
Meets M 200pm-500pm UTC 1.142
(also listed as ANS 384)


ANS 384

Professor Martha Ann Selby


What does it mean to inhabit a body in India?  This is the primary question that we will attempt to answer during the course of the semester in this seminar (graduate standing is required).  The readings and discussion over the course of the term will parallel the development of the human being from conception, infancy and childhood, adulthood and sexuality, and ending with aging and death.  We will take an interdisciplinary approach, and will examine textual materials from an extensive range of sources and time periods.  Sources will include selections from medical literature from India’s Āyurvedic traditions as well as readings from religious narratives that deal directly with issues of embodiment and provide powerful metaphors for it.  We will also be drawing largely on sociological and anthropological studies of the different forms that embodiment takes, from metaphysical issues on what it means to be “alive” or “dead” and the human body’s connection to land and landscape to careful explorations of the body’s outer surfaces in terms of ritual, ascetic, and strictly sartorial concerns with adornment and fashion.  We will also explore the fascinating interfaces between bodybuilding and nation building in India.

Each week, one student will serve as discussion leader and provide the other seminar participants with an 8 to 10-page “topics paper” in advance.  Two other students will be asked to respond with a formal written commentary of 2 to 3 pages, and discussion will proceed from there.  Formal presentations of research in progress will be held during the final 2 weeks of the semester.


1.         Wujastyk, Dominik.  The Roots of Ayurveda.

2.         Langford, Jean.  Fluent Bodies: Ayurvedic Remedies for Postcolonial Imbalance.

3.         Daniel, E. Valentine.  Fluid Signs: Being a Person the Tamil Way.

4.         Kakar, Sudhir.  Shamans, Mystics and Doctors.

5.         Lamb, Sarah.  White Saris and Sweet Mangoes: Aging, Gender, and Body in North India.

6.         Barrett, Ron.  Aghor Medicine: Pollution, Death, and Healing in North India.

7.         Parry, Jonathan.  Death in Banaras.

8.         Arnold, David.  Colonizing the Body.

9.         Readings packet (this will include translations of primary texts and a number of articles and chapters from book-length studies)


1 topics paper (8 to 10 pages in length) plus presentation                       20%

2  reaction papers (2 to 3 pages in length) plus presentation                   30% total (15% each)

Formal oral presentation on research paper in progress              20%

Final research paper (20 to 30 pages in length)                          30%

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