Research Interests

My research extends over a number of interrelated areas within anthropology, religious studies and cognate disciplines. My main ethnographic focus has been on religion in Tibetan societies, the primary topic of my book Civilized Shamans (1993), but I have increasingly come to view this material in the wider context of religion, politics and society in Central, South and South-East Asia, and the historical development of religious and political institutions within this wider region.

Theoretically, my interests centre around the understanding of cultural processes and their effects on human behaviour, with especial reference to shamanism, ritual and religion and their contemporary analogues. While based in anthropological theory, they extend into what could be called the comparative sociology of systems of knowledge, including the sociology of science and of social science, the question of popular and 'informal' knowledge and the role of the media. I am particularly interested in processes of change in social and cultural systems. My book Mind, Body and Culture (1990) is an initial exploration of many of these themes, and sketches a theoretical framework in which 'knowledge', both informal and formal, is seen as one aspect of cultural processes taking place within a field which encompasses both mind and body, individual and society.

An important additional focus for many years has been the anthropology of music. While I have not published as extensively in this area, it has been an important theoretical and ethnographic resource. My work on the Gesar epic of Tibet has explored some of the connections between music and wider social and cultural processes, including Tibetan versions of 'shamanism'. More recently I have become involved in research on healing and medical pluralism among Tibetans, which has led to a further exploration of aspects of popular and pragmatic religion. Another recent focus for research has been new religious movements in Western society, and in particular the recent growth of shamanism and paganism.

MI am currently working on a extended project on the relationship between "official" religion (Brahmanical, Buddhist, Islamic etc) and "shamanic" and other forms of popular, pragmatically-oriented religion in South and Southeast Asia. The first part of this project is mainly historical, and involves reconceptualising the development of Indic religions so as to highlight these relatively marginalised aspects. Later parts will be more ethnographic and contemporary in orientation, and will also include field research (together with Dr Santi Rozario) on women's religious life among Bengali and Maithili peoples. Plans for future research also include further development of the theoretical approach first presented in Mind, Body and Culture, with particular reference to contemporary Western society.

Field Research

Nepal and North India, January 1971 to July 1972

This research, with Tibetans (mainly refugees) in Nepal and North India, was the basis of my Ph.D. dissertation. Its major topic was religion in Tibetan society and in particular the role of the lama. I also did some research on Tibetan music and got to know some aspects of North Indian society.

North India, August and September 1973; Nepal and North India, December 1978

These two short trips were mainly to study and record Tibetan secular music; the second also involved some work on the Tibetan epic.

West Java, December 1984 and January 1985

This was a short research trip mainly devoted to work on Sundanese music.

Nepal and Central Tibet, July-August 1987

On this trip I did some work on Tibetan religion and, in particular, examined contemporary Tibetan religious life

Thailand, India, Nepal, China and Japan, June to September 1989; India, January 1990 and July-September 1990; Nepal, Central and Eastern Tibet, August 1991; India, December 1991 and January 1992, August 1992

These six trips were in connection with my Australia Research Council-funded research on the East Tibetan epic of Gesar of Ling and related issues in East Tibetan society and religion. The last three involved some work with ethnographic video.

Bangladesh and Nepal, December 1993 and January 1994

This was a preliminary field trip for a planned comparative research project on women's health and ritual in South Asia.

North India, July and August 1996

This was research on medical pluralism among Tibetan refugees in Dalhousie, H.P. and Delhi, in conjunction with my second ARC large grant.

South India and Sri Lanka, Dec. 1997 and Jan. 1998

A preliminary field trip in connection with the womenıs health and ritual project, combined with research towards a critical history of religion in South and Southeast Asia.

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Updated GBS 05/03/2002