Knowledge and Practice in Circulation: Islam, Medicine, and Science in the Modern World

AHA Session 246
Society for Advancing the History of South Asia 5
Sunday, January 6, 2019: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
Williford B (Hilton Chicago, Third Floor)
Projit Bihari Mukharji, University of Pennsylvania
Projit Bihari Mukharji, University of Pennsylvania

Session Abstract

This panel explores the circulation, transmission, and translation of medical and scientific knowledge in modern Muslim societies at the intersection of local institutions and global political transformations. Muslim societies in the Middle East and Asia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries often were not considered centers of scientific production and medical innovation by many European institutions of learning. Moving in a new direction, this panel comparatively analyzes changing understandings of bodily health and scientific knowledge in the Ottoman Empire, the Indian subcontinent, and China at the turn of the century. By comparing understandings of science and medicine, this panel contributes to a growing body of work on Muslim connections across empires and the translation and reception of scientific knowledge in modern Muslim societies. What were the roles of Muslim scientific cultures in shaping imperial and national projects in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? How did the political and cultural impact of the European colonialism and nationalist movements transform traditions of Muslim medical institutions and practices? What were the ethical, aesthetic, and legal responses to reforms in the tradition(s) of medicine by diverse local groups, such as hakims and lay practitioners? By attending to both the transnational circulation of scientific knowledge and the dynamism of local medical cultures, this panel will discuss tensions as well as exchanges and unearth collaborations among medical traditions in the Muslim world.

The first paper discusses the ‘embodied empiricism’ of practitioners of Avicennian medicine at a medical madrasa in colonial Delhi. It demonstrates that while surgery and dissections, known as dastkari, were formerly performed by subaltern practitioners, transformation in the knowledge and practice of this humoral medicine in the colonial context led to a new understanding of labor and mores of the aristocrat hakims. Moving to Ottoman lands, the second paper delves into the implications of regulation of medical practice by exploring the conflicting relationships between physicians and non-licensed practitioners, largely named as mutatabbibs, in the late Ottoman era. Presenting medical and scientific knowledge making as a site of contestation, this paper explores how boundaries between modern, traditional, and Islamic medicine often blurred and led to circulation of knowledge among competing agents of medical practices. Shifting our focus to China, the third paper situates the Chinese Muslim pharmacy tradition in a paradoxical political engagement of Chinese nationalist politics with its Muslim population. This paper examines Republican-era Chinese Muslim pharmacies both as sites of distinctive medical knowledge and practice and as constituents in the production of new arguments about Chinese Muslim identity. The fourth paper explores the diaries of Hakim Habibur Rahman (1880-1947), an influential leader of Unani tibb in colonial Bengal, and discusses the implications of Islamic healing as a response to the political context in colonial Bengal under British rule and competing nationalist movements. This paper analyzes how local Muslim healers challenged British assumptions of Islamic sciences.

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