Humanities Research for Health in Asia Network

The HRHA network is jointly coordinated by The Australian National University and the Inner Mongolia University for the Nationalities. We welcome affiliations with researchers, who are engaging with humanities or social science-based projects relating to cross-cultural approaches to medicine, health and wellbeing within local settings across Asia. The cross-cultural research may be examining Ayurvedic medicine, Tibetan medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Mongolian medicine, shamanic practices, or a pluralistic approach, including modern biomedicine and veterinary medicine with more traditional medical approaches. Many of the philosophies towards health and medicine are inter-linked across the Eurasian continent. Mongolian medicine, for example, has integrated aspects of Chinese, Tibetan and Ayurvedic medical traditions. Research may be based in field locations across Asia, including: Central Asia, Inner Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia and Southern Asia.

The HRHA Network will host a bi-annual conference or symposium, as well as hosting eminent invited speakers focussing on health in Asia. This year a symposium and an official opening of this research initiative will be hosted at The Australian National University.

International Research Network Members

  • Dr Natasha Fijn is an expert in multispecies ethnography and visual anthropology. Her multi-species medicine focus is on the skills of medical practitioners in the treatment of both herders and herd animals in rural communities in the Khangai region of Mongolia (The Australian National University, Australia).
  • Prof. Benedikte Lindskog is a medical anthropologist with expertise in maternal health, recent impacts of the zoonotic Zika virus and the influence of environmental factors, such as harsh winters on herding communities in Mongolia. (University of Oslo, Norway)
  • Saijirahu specialises in the history of Mongolian folk medicine (Inner Mongolia University for the Nationalities, China).
  • Dr Fu Minghai, conducted research in Queensland Australia (Inner Mongolia University for the Nationalities, China).
  • Enkhoyun Tulgaa, veterinary medicine, specializing in Mongolian medicine, Mongolian State Agricultural University, Mongolia (Veterinary Medicine).
  • Tserentsodnom, scholar in traditional Mongolian medicine, Head of the Museum of Traditional Mongolian Medicine, Mongolia (Traditonal Mongolian Medicine).

Current research by participating scholars:

ARC Discovery Project: Mongolian Medicine: the transfer of different modes of medicinal knowledge.

Collaborating researchers: Prof. Narangoa; Prof. Wuliji; Dr Fijn; Prof. Cumming; Assoc. Prof. Lindskog.

Mongolian herding communities have developed unique forms of medical knowledge: taking the human family, the extended family of herd animals and the surrounding ecology as a basis. This knowledge across species is still practiced today and contributes to the health and wellbeing of local nomadic herding communities. Our research network investigates Mongolian medical practices in humans, animals and the environment, engaging with the concept of One Health. We investigate how Mongolian communities have perceived illness and disease over time and how Mongolian medicinal knowledge supplements biomedical knowledge. Through observations and interviews with knowledgeable elders and medical practitioners, in conjunction with text based studies, our interdisciplinary network explores how knowledge is conveyed across generations, how approaches have changed over time and the foundations for this knowledge.

We have three key areas of focus:

  • How knowledge of Mongolian medicine is transmitted within different local settings (for example, across herding communities, local clinics, Buddhist monasteries and hospitals).
  • Initiating scholarship on Mongolian medicine that breaks down species and geographic boundaries, across the borders of Mongolia and Inner Mongolia, China.
  • Bringing interdisciplinary researchers from the social sciences and the biosciences into collaboration with one another to investigate the Mongolian medical perspective and how Mongolian medicine may contribute toward the concept of One Health.

To fulfil these aims our network investigates three different forms of knowledge transfer practiced in different settings:

  1. Learning through word-of-mouth and practical trial-and-error: data collection on current practices of Mongolian medicine (across humans and domestic animals) in rural herding communities. How this knowledge has been transmitted, through interviews and oral histories. In addition to herding families, we also intend to focus on elders who have practiced medicine within their lifetime but are now living in settled areas.
  2. A more structured form of learning within Buddhist monasteries, which engages with both apprenticeship and ancient texts: interviews with practicing Buddhist medical practitioners or medicinal scholars in monasteries, inherited multispecies medical knowledge and its philosophical foundations. Within the old manuscripts, our focus will be on the integration of medicine with the more-than-human world.
  3. The institutional setting of the modern hospital: focussing on the combination of biomedicine and traditional forms of Mongolian medicine. In this context we will engage with current medical apprenticeship and how biomedicine and Mongolian medicine compare; whether practitioners integrate the forms of knowledge or separate into different spheres; and how multispecies knowledge (particularly in relation to medicinal plants in this context) has changed over time.