Holism, Health and Healing - SE880

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
(version 2)
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7 15 (7.5) DR A Waldstein







The module addresses the causes, effects, treatments and meanings of health, illness and disease for humans and the ecosystems that they live in. The module content will be structured around five broad themes related to holism, health and healing, drawing on ethnographic examples from around the world. We will begin with a consideration of the evolutionary basis of human medicine and dietary behaviour. Next, we will take a closer look at healing systems, their structure and the various theories of illness and therapeutic techniques that they encompass. This will be followed by a critical examination of the biopolitics of health and healing, including the question of how to define and assess the efficacy of various medical treatments. We will then take a closer look at the spiritual aspects of health and healing before concluding with the final theme of holism, health and healing in the globalized world.


This module appears in:

Contact hours



Spring term

Method of assessment

The module will be assessed by 100% coursework. One essay of 2000-2500 words (60%), presentation of a medical ethnography (30%), class participation (10%).

Indicative reading

Hsu, E. and S. Harris (eds.) 2010. Plants, health and healing: on the interface of ethnobotany and medical anthropology. Oxford: Berghahn. (Introductory chapter)
Pieroni, A. and Vandebroek, I. 2007. Traveling Cultures and Plants: The Ethnobiology and Ethnopharmacy of Migrations. Berghahn Books.Van Andel, T. and P. Westers 2010. "Why Suranimese Migrants in the Netherlands Continue to Use Medicinal Herbs From their Home Country." Journal of Ethnopharmacology 127(3): 694-701.
Volpato, G., D. Godinez and A. Beyra 2009. "Migration and Ethnobotanical Practices: The Case of Tifey Among Haitian Immigrants in Cuba." Human Ecology 37: 43-53.
Waldstein, Anna and Cameron Adams. 2006. "The Interface Between Medical Anthropology and Medical Ethnobiology." Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 12 (suppl. 1), 95-117.
Wayland, C. 2003. "Contextualizing the Politics of Knowledge: Physicians' Attitudes toward Medicinal Plants." Medical Anthropology Quarterly 17, 483-500.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
1) critically assess human nutritional requirements/recommendations from an evolutionary perspective.
2) understand how and why medicinal plants affect human physiology in different biocultural contexts.
3) rigorously analyse the implications of nature, complexity and richness of human diversity and adaptation in health, wellness, illness and
4) critically analyse the diverse strategies that humans have developed for dealing with illness and disease.
5) critically engage with the wide range of variation in cultural models and technologies of medicine and health as reported in ethnography.
6) demonstrate advanced knowledge and understanding of anthropological debates concerning health inequality, the relationship between
health and the body and the historical development of biomedicine.

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