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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

The Scale of Things Public lecture series: Scales of Research: social anthropology meets epidemiology

27th February 2017, 18:15 to 19:15, Ken Wade Theatre, Calman Learning Centre, Professor William Sax (Heidelberg University)

It seems that social anthropology with its methodology of ethnographic participant-observation, and epidemiology with its focus on statistical methods, work at very different scales. Ethnographers usually conduct their research at the micro-scale of the tribe, village, family or even the single person, while epidemiologists prefer large-scale studies of "populations": the bigger the better.

Ethnographic writing is normally evaluated in terms of how well it addresses the (largely unquantifiable) questions of social theory, while epidemiological writing is normally evaluated by statistical criteria like "validity," "reliability" and "sensitivity." To what degree are such differences in evaluative criteria a function of differing scales of research? What are the respective strengths and weaknesses of each approach? Can epidemiology adequately address questions of culture and meaning? Can ethnography be truly "scientific"? Prof. Sax will address these familiar questions in terms of his research comparing the efficacy of ritual healing with that of conventional psychiatry.

William S. ('Bo') Sax studied at Banaras Hindu University, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Washington (Seattle), and the University of Chicago, where he earned his PhD in Anthropology in 1987. From 1987 to 1989 he was lecturer in Anthropology at Harvard University, and post-doctoral fellow in the Harvard Academy. After that he taught Hinduism in the Department of Philosophy and Religious studies at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, for eleven years. In 2000 he took up the Chair of Anthropology at the South Asia Institute in Heidelberg. He has published extensively on pilgrimage, gender, theater, aesthetics, ritual healing and medical anthropology. His major works (all published by Oxford University Press, New York) include Mountain Goddess: gender and politics in a Central Himalayan Pilgrimage (1991); The Gods at Play: Lila in South Asia (1995); Dancing the Self: personhood and performance in the Pandav Lila of Garhwal (2002); God of Justice: ritual healing and social justice in the Central Himalayas (2008); The Problem of Ritual Efficacy (2010, with Johannes Quack and Jan Weinhold); and The Law of Possession: ritual, healing, and the secular state (with Heléne Basu, 2015). He is currently working on a book about archaic polities in the Western Himalayas, tentatively entitled In the Valley of the Kauravas: from subject to citizen in the Western Himalayas. His 1991 book Mountain Goddess is being translated into Hindi under the title Himalaya ki Nanda Devi (Dehra Dun: Wimsar).

This lecture is free and open to all.


Map – The Calman Learning Centre is denoted as building number: 43.

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