Minding Culture, Regaining Wholeness – a Comparative Study of the Institutionalization of Alternative Practices of Mind-body Medicine in Norway (ca. 1960 - 2013) (John Ødemark)

The sub-project compares the attempted institutionalization of two alternative practices of mind-body medicine in Norway in recent history and contemporary culture meditation/mindfulness and shamanism.

The criteria for selecting them and their transfer into Norwegian contexts for comparison is a set of differences and family resemblances that can be used to map

  • (a) the development of salient trends in the alternative field since the 1960’s (i), as well as
  • (b) the broader, international streams of traditions that these form a part of. 
  • (c) the comparison of a practice like mindfulness/meditation that appears to be on the verge of receiving canonization from established health institutions and shamanism; intimately linked to ethnic identities and forms of dramatization characteristic of “popular culture”, will make it possible to examine relations between cultural and medical hierarchies of “taste”.      

FAMILIY RESEMBLANCES: Both practices belong to the CAM-sector, and are based upon cultural techniques “imported” from “foreign” cultural and religious contexts (Buddhism for mindfulness, circumpolar and Amerindian cultures in particular for shamanism). Both share the trait of being “culturally foreign” at the moment of attempted translation. Being inserted into the field of mind-body medicine, both practices seek to supplement biomedicine. Both stress the healing powers of the mind, and are critical of an ontology that makes too rigid a demarcation between the interior and the exterior (Descola 2005). Nevertheless, both practices have also used natural scientific practices of laboratory measurement to argue for their effectiveness. Finally, both practices are part of the globalization of alternative medicine that had the counterculture in the USA in the 1960’s as an important zone of reinterpretation and transmission.

DIFFERENCES: This brief sketch of resemblances obviously takes its defining criteria from institutionalized medicine and health care; institutions in relation to which all “others” – irrespective of cultural origin and underpinning medical theory – constitute “alternative” or “complementary” (CAM) for wellness. The sub-project examines how the practice of mindfulness and shamanism in its Western and Norwegian trajectories takes separate paths with respect to the use of nature and culture as authority:

  • (a) The proponents of mediation/mindfulness have since the 1960’ s increasingly sought to naturalise and detach the promoted practice from its zone of cultural and religious origin (India, Buddhism) and align it with the ontology of Western medicine, and in the process defining the “core” of Buddhism as psychology. This trajectory will be studied in the Norwegian contexts by using ACEM as the point of departure.
  • (b) In contrast, the legitimating of shamanism as a mind-body technique deploys the idiom of cultural heritage. Here the point of departure for the case study will be the website Sjamanzonen, and its intertextual links to fictions about shamanism, to the writing and website of the anthropologist  founder of Western “core shamanism”, M. Harner, to ethnopolitcial struggles using shamanism as a transcultural practice that links circumpolar and Amerindian cultures together.
Published June 5, 2014 9:42 AM - Last modified Apr. 6, 2017 10:05 AM