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Masterclass by Prof Harish Naraindas: The Body Of Christ and Magic, Religion and Science

Masterclass by Prof Harish Naraindas: The Body Of Christ and Magic, Religion and Science

Event Venue:

Deakin Downtown 727 Collins StreetDocklands, VIC, 3008, Australia ( Map )

Please join us on Tuesday 1 August where Professor Harish Naraindas will deliver his masterclass on: “The Body Of Christ and Magic, Religion and Science”. By looking at the work of classical authors such as Tylor, Frazer, Durkheim and Malinowski, he will ask questions on the boundaries between science, religion, and magic.


What is Science? Is Science different from magic? Or are there affinities between science and magic? Is science the antithesis of religon? Or do religion and science share something in common in opposition to magic? Or do magic and science share something in common in opposition to religion? Are magic, religion and science epochal moments in mankind’s evolutionary ascent, or are they coeval in time? Is religion a form of superstition? Or is magic a form of superstition while religion is antithetical to it? Or is magic a failed science and science efficacious magic? In short, what is the relationship between science, magic and religion, and how and why have sociology and anthropology, starting with Tylor, Frazer, Durkheim and Malinowski, addressed, to varying degrees, these three terms as pairs or together, rather than as stand-alone terms? Does the religious history of these European thinkers, with the Reformation as a watershed, have a bearing on why they have been addressed together? Or were they led to invoke them through a colonial encounter with cultures (which the New World Encyclopaedia charmingly calls “newly contacted societies”) that they designated primitive, which in fact is the title – Primitive Culture – of Edward Tylor’s celebrated work of 1871, where Tylor, by depicting such cultures as animistic, sets in motion the anthropological study of religion.

We hope, in this Master Class, to start a conversation on these three terms by looking at the relationship between medicine and alternative medicine, which turns out to be a stand-in for the relationship between magic, religion and science, past and present, East and West. This stand-in is best captured by the triad of Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry – the name of a contemporary American journal – where medicine and psychiatry are a proxy for body and mind in “orthodox biomedicine”, while “culture” runs the risk of reducing alternative medical epistemologies to magic and religion through the “culture of the patient” and their illness narratives. One of the primary reasons for this is anthropology’s inability to entertain theurgy either as aetiology or therapy, which often seems to be the case in alternative medicine. This inability by anthropology to entertain theurgy seems to have religious rather than scientific roots, especially as it pertains to the Body of Christ and the nature of His presence on Sunday mornings in Church.   


Harish Naraindas is professor of sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), where he works on the history and sociology of science and medicine. He has published on a range of topics, including an epistemological history of tropical medicine, a comparative history of smallpox from the 18th-20th century, on the creolisation of contemporary Ayurveda, on spa medicine in Germany, on pregnancy and childbirth within the context of competing medical epistemes, and recently on how anthropology attempts to explain the non-human. He is currently working on epigenetics and Ayurveda; AyurGenomics and P4 medicine; past-life aetiologies and therapeutic trance in German psychosomatic medicine; a multi-sited study of perinatal loss and bereavement in the Anglophone world; and a comparative study of alternative medicine and well-being in India and Switzerland. Among his recent publications are a co-edited special issue of Anthropology and Medicine called ‘The fragile medical: the slippery terrain between medicine, anthropology and societies’ (2017), and two co-edited books: Healing holidays: itinerant patients, therapeutic locales and the quest for health (London: Routledge, 2015), and Asymmetrical conversations: contestations, circumventions and the blurring of therapeutic boundaries (New York: Berghahn, 2014). 


  • Naraindas, H. (2023) Privileging the body The bio-materialization of medicine and the  asymmetrical production of pluralism in Gerritsen, A., & Cleetus, B. (Eds.). Histories of Health and Materiality in the Indian Ocean World: Medicine, Material Culture and Trade, 1600-2000. Bloomsbury Publishing. 

  • Naraindas, H. 2021 Psychedelic Therapy. The Movement for Global Mental Health, 165. 

  • Naraindas, H. (2017). Of sacraments, sacramentals and anthropology: is anthropological explanation sacramental?. Anthropology & Medicine, 24(3), 276-300.  

  • Naraindas, H. (2011). Of relics, body parts and laser beams: the German Heilpraktiker and his Ayurvedic spa. Anthropology and Medicine, 18(1), 67-86. 


This is an in-person masterclass taking place at Deakin Downtown from 10:30am to 3:30pm. Please RSVP directly to if attending in-person.  

There is also the option to join us via Zoom: 

Meeting ID: 863 8018 4092  | Please email for the password.


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