Examining “mental illness” in societies where different world views, thought worlds and habit patterns prevail is ordinarily frowned upon by social scientists since it involves analysis of phenomena steeped in modern conventions of knowledge. This book contravenes this position giving reasons for and ways of circumventing social science scruples. It formulates and provides details about the system of healing of conditions of psychiatric interest that would have been found in ancient traditions and early modern periods. It draws on the findings of Indian epidemiologists who have surveyed the prevalence and distribution of psychiatric disorders in modern and traditional settings of contemporary India. Their findings support the position that such conditions would have been found in earlier historical epochs. In the book, information from cultural anthropology is used to formulate ideas and a perspective that encompass salient cultural and historical parameters of India as a socio-cultural entity which have stood the test of time. Emphasis is placed on how Indian culture, religion, morality, sociology and philosophical psychology shape the world view and habit patterns of Indian peoples everywhere and throughout millennia. This nexus of ideas constituted the ontology and epistemology about psychiatric conditions in earlier historical epochs. It shaped their form, content and meaning and it provided a basis for approaches to healing. Normal and not so normal conceptions about behaviour and well being are discussed based on indigenous systems of meaning. The manner in which psychiatric conditions were and still are formulated in the compilations of Caraka, Susruta, Vagbhata and Bela are reviewed and compared along with religious and spiritual viewpoints. Discussion of approach to conditions of psychiatric interest rooted in traditional Indian values provides a basis for critique and plea for broadening the scope and depth.
Horacio Fabrega Jr. is a practising clinical neuropsychiatrist who is a Professor of Psychiatry and Anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh. His academic work spans the fields not only of clinical and descriptive psychiatry but also of ethnomedicine, medical anthropology, and cultural psychiatry. He is the author of four books and over one hundred and fifty articles in peer review journals in these fields. He was the Director of the Medical Student Education Program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine for fifteen years. For the last ten or so years his work has encompassed evolutionary psychology and psychiatry, involving the theoretical study of the way conditions of psychiatric interest have changed during various phases of human biological and cultural evolution. India represents a case study for this position and the book summarizes it.