Professor: Melford E. Spiro


Course Content

For most of the seminar, we shall be concerned with two questions -- first, how valid is the dominant anthropological claim that psychopathology (alternatively, psychological abnormality, mental disorder, mental illness) is an ethnocentric, Western concept? second, how valid is the dominant anthropological claim that psychopathology is culturally constructed? For both questions, we shall be examining both ethnographic and theoretical materials. Toward the end of the seminar, we shall be concerned with the treatment of mental disorders, in a word psychotherapy, from a cross-cultural perspective. Again, the readings will be both ethnographic and theoretical.

Because contemporary psychiatric anthropology (alternatively cross-cultural psychiatry) is heavily influenced by postmodernist thought, and because as embryonic anthropologists you should be abreast of current thinking, many of the assignments represent that perspective with, however, some important dissenting voices. Whether the one or the other, your task is to read these assignments critically, i.e., to ask of each of them the following questions: What is the argument? Is it logically developed? What data are presented? Do they support the argument? Can these data support an alternative argument (or arguments)? Are there other kinds of data that are inconsistent with, or refute, the argument?

All members of the seminar will be responsible for reading the weekly assignments prior to our weekly meetings. For each meeting two members will present an oral report of approximately 30 minutes (each dealing with half the assigned readings), following which the reports and the readings will be open for group discussion. Among other things, the reports should attempt to deal with the questions listed above.

In addition to oral reports, each member of the seminar will write a critical term paper of approximately 25 pages, dealing with one of the topics of the syllabus, or some other topic of his or her interest. The topic and the bibliography should be discussed with me prior to beginning work. Wherever possible, the paper should also reflect the readings in psychiatry seminar.

The final grade will be based on the oral reports, participation in seminar discussions, and the written paper.


Introduction:Anthropology and Mental Illness: Concepts and Perspectives

No assignment. Discussion by instructor.

Mental Illness, Cultural Relativism, and Cultural Determinism

  1. Kiev, Ari. Magic, Faith, and Healing, Ch. 1, 1964. (For historical background, not for seminar discussion).
  2. Benedict, Ruth. "The Individual and the Pattern of Culture," In Ruth Benedict, Patterns of Culture, Ch. 8:251-278, 1934.
  3. Devereux, George. (1956) "Normal and Abnormal" In George Devereux, Basic Problems of Ethnopsychiatry. (1980: 3-71).Translated by Basia Miller Gulati and George Devereux. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  4. Kleinman, Arthur. (1988) Rethinking Psychiatry, Chs. 1-4.
  5. Murphy, Jane. (1976) "Psychiatric Labeling in Cross-Cultural Perspective," Science 191:1019-1028.
  6. Spiro, Melford E. (1959) "Cultural Heritage, Personal Tensions, and Mental Illness in a South Sea Culture," Ch. 6, in Opler (ed.), Culture and Mental Health.


  1. Jamison, Kay Redfield. (1995) An Unquiet Mind (For background, not for seminar discussion).
  2. Smith, Joel. (1997) "Depression: Darker than Darkness," American Scholar, autumn:495-499. (For background, not for seminar discussion).
  3. Kleinman, Arthur. (1980) "Chinese cultural patterning of affective experience and behavior," In Kleinman, Arthur. Patients and Healers in the Context of Culture, pp. 133-151.
  4. Kawanishi. (1992) "Somatization: An artifact of Western Medicalization?" Transcultural Psychiatry Research & Review, 29:5-36.
  5. Kleinman, Arthur; & Good, Byron J. (1985) Introduction, pp. 1-10, In Kleinman & Good (eds.), Culture and Depression.
  6. Lutz, Catherine. (1985) "Depression and the Translation of Emotional Worlds," Ibid., Ch. 2: 63-100.
  7. Obeyesekere, Gananath. (1985) "Depression, Buddhism, and the Work of Culture in Sri Lanka," Ibid., Ch. 4: 134-152.
  8. O'Nell, Theresa. (1996) Disciplined Hearts: History, Identity, and Depression in an American Indian Community, pp. 191-210.

Possession Trance

  1. Bourguignon, Erica. (1979) Psycholooical Anthropology, Ch.7.
  2. Wedenoja. (1990) "Ritual Trance and Catharsis," In Jordan & Swartz (eds.), Personality and the Cultural Construction of Society, Ch. 13.
  3. Obeyesekere, Gananath. (1981) Medusa's Hair, pp. 53-66, 84-89, 131-142.
  4. -----. (1990) The Work of Culture, pp. 3-24, 65-68 .
  5. Spiro, Melford E. Gender Ideology and Psychological Reality, Ch. 6.


  1. Levi-Strauss, Claude. (1963) Structural Anthropology Ch. 10:186-201.
  2. Gottlieb, Phyllis. (1995) "Reflections on Chlibirth Observed and Childbirth Experienced," Anthropology Today, 11(3): 10-11.
  3. Wall. (1995) "The Anthropologist as Obstetrician," Anthropology Today 11(6):12-14.
  4. Waxler. (1977) "Is Mental Illness Cured in Traditional Societies," Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry, 1:233-253.
  5. Kleinman, Arthur. (1980) Patients and Healers in the Context of Culture pp. 352-374.
  6. Spiro, Melford E. (1967) Burmese Supernaturalism, Chs. 9, 10:165-167, 11.
  7. Prince, Raymond. (1980) "Variations in Psychotherapeutic Procedures," In H. Triandis & J. Draguns (eds.), Handbook of Cross-Cultural Psychology, vol..6, ch. 7.
  8. Frank & Frank. (1991) Persuasion and Healing, ch. 7. (Do not use earlier edition.)

Created: 01 March 1999.
Last updated: 01 March 1999.

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