Colonial psychiatry, magic and religion. The case of mesmerism in British India
French Cultural Studies, 15, (1), . (doi:10.1177/0957154X04039344).
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This article is concerned with the development of early nineteenth-century Western medicine and psychiatry in relation to religion and magic during British colonial rule in India. The case of mesmerism is taken to illustrate that ‘colonial medicine/psychiatry in India’ itself was plural in nature, being made up of a variety of different, at times competing, strands. Religious connotations and references to spiritual enlightenment increasingly posed a peculiar problem to emerging Western science-based medicine in the nineteenth century. Mesmerism was met with as much hostility by an emerging Western medical orthodoxy as indigenous medical systems. The affiliation of mesmerism with Indian magical practices and religious customs contributed to its marginalization – despite or, rather, because of its popularity among members of the Indian nobility and middle classes, Indian patients and practitioners.
The case of mesmerism also shows that awareness both of the domineering power of a gradually emerging medical ‘imagined’ mainstream and an analysis of the complex challenges faced by heterodoxy (as much as by orthodoxy) facilitate a more critical understanding of the development of colonial medicine and psychiatry in the East as well as, arguably, of medicine and psychiatry in Britain itself.
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