Tyler Phan

  • Lecturer

Tyler Phan received his Ph.D. from University College London (UCL) in 2017. Before his Ph.D., he earned his M.A. in Religions of Asia (now M.A. in Buddhist Studies) from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (SOAS) in 2013. His research focus is in medical anthropology and science and technology studies (STS) with a relationship among religion, ontology, bodies, post-colonialism, and race in Asia and North America. His previous research included a cross-country ethnography of Chinese medicine in the United States, examining the historical marginalization of Asian-Americans through policy and legislation. He is currently involved with two projects: a material semiotics approach examining the professionalization of Chinese medicine in America with the regulation of the acupuncture needle and the rise of Counter-culture Orientalism (CCO) in the United States through medical, contemplative, and bodily practices found in South and East Asia in the mid-twentieth century.

Outside of Pitt, he chairs the Goldman Institute of Social Research’s Center for Power Studies where he facilitates a committee to research gun policy and culture, with a particular investigation on the technological history and social impact of the AR-15. He is also a fifth-generation Vietnamese medicine practitioner where he has served the Pittsburgh community with accessible low-cost acupuncture for nearly a decade.


Asian Medical Systems

Medical and healing systems of Asia are becoming an integral component to health and lifestyles of Americans. With the burgeoning appeal of yoga and mindfulness, Westerners have look East in search of different modes of healing. Often seen as an ‘alternative’ to biomedical practices, various forms of Asian medicine are often lumped as a homogenous Other in relationship to Western biomedicine. This course examines three distinct Asian medical systems originating from China, Tibet, and India. Along with their unique ideas and methods of healing, the class traces these system’s cultural influences and inevitably their various encounters with modernity.

Mountains and Medicine

There is a unique relationship between medical systems and mountains, often creating new traditions and modes of thinking. This course explores three unique mountain regions in Asia and how their medical systems shape how people perform care. In the past 150 years, these systems have been institutionalized and professionalized within the framework of colonial and national medical and public health policy. Many of these systems are intimately connected to the environment, and to the conceptualization, categorization, production and consumption of natural resources. This course focuses on a range of systems of medicine: Ayurveda, Tibetan Medicine (Gso ba rig pa), Chinese medicine, and disparate medical systems of Southeast Asia. These systems all have a unique relationship with religious systems such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, and animism.

The distinct characteristic of these practices is their unique position as medical practices on the margins of modern biomedicine. The tension arises when these systems collide with biomedicine, creating a reformation or a push for the systems to move into obscurity. The result is often seen through the diaspora, producing other controversies. 

We will look closely at forms of ritual healing within these systems that involve ‘supernatural’ forces, home-remedies that are based on local knowledge, and the relationship between food and health. The purpose of the course is NOT to evaluate the effectiveness or medical value of these systems; it is to understand how these medical systems and health practices fit into a range of social, political, ecological, botanical and economic contexts. Given that a number of these medical systems are intimately linked to botanical and environmental knowledge, the course will focus on the relationship between Asian medical systems and mountain ecology.

Tibet Society and Culture

Over centuries the idea of Tibet and Tibetans in the global diaspora have shaped much of the Eastern spiritual landscape in the West and continually redefine the Wests geopolitical relationship to the East. This course will explore the cultural, sociopolitical, ideological, and religious dimension of Tibet through a critical anthropology lens. From the adoption of Indic Buddhist practices to its influence on the American counter-culture, this course will highlight Tibet’s complex yet rich cultural legacy while examining controversies at the center of its contemporary society. Though this course has its disciplinary foundation in anthropology, sources will also derive from Buddhist, Religious, and Asian Studies along with philosophy, political science, history, and foreign policy.