Tyler Phan

  • Visiting 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 Asians and Asian Americans through policy and legislation, which has now turned into a monograph called When White People Took Our Medicine as well as the comic book series entitled A People’s History of Acupuncture in America.

He has also been engaged with a postcolonial discourse on whiteness and religion in the search for “Eastern” enlightenment as well as the role of “practice” in almost a decade-long research project called Counter Culture Orientalism. The work examines members of the 1960s and 1970s counterculture who were jaded by the mid-20th century’s model of religion and ventured “East” throughout Asia to explore heterogenous practices of what the members viewed as a homogenous “enlightenment.”

Outside of Pitt, he is the director of the Goldman Institute of Social Research where he chairs Critical Dharma, a study group examining critical theory and contemplative thought. Recently, he has helped oversee the joint partnership with over a dozen groups in Western Pennsylvania called the Braddock Food Collaborative, which focuses on creating accessible foodway systems distribution throughout Braddock and North Braddock. Additionally, he runs an underground comic book press with world renowned artist Frank Santoro called Phantoro Press (Hype Pup Jr.). He is also a coffee roaster and tea trader with beverage companies in both the East and West Coast of the United States.

Lastly, Dr. Phan is also a fifth-generation Vietnamese medical practitioner and has been practicing acupuncture and herbalism for more than the past two decades. He opened Pittsburgh’s first community acupuncture clinic in 2010 and has worked as an acupuncturist serving people throughout the world. He has taught workshops on traditional medicine, meditation, as well as anthropological research on astrology (“Western,” Vedic, Lunar, etc.), numerology, eight characters destiny charts (ba zi), and geomancy for the past fifteen years.


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 the Americas, Asia and Africa and how their medical systems shape how people perform care. 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 medical systems: Asian, American (North, Central, and South), and African healing practices. These systems all have a unique relationship with religious systems such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, animism, and local religions.

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.

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.

Human Sexuality in Cross Culture

Sex and sexuality are always on a delicate line between taboo and reinforced. This course explores the cross-cultural framework in how sexuality is expressed throughout the world. We will not only explore love and marriage but also the social dynamics at the core of sexuality. In other words, this course explores how cultures express sex and sexuality and brings awareness to the multitude of identities, practices, rituals, taboos, violence, and norms the encompasses sexuality.

Myth, Symbol, Ritual

What is the meaning of life? I honestly don’t know. However, there are structures in culture and society that curate and construct our reality. In anthropology, we decipher meaning through the realm of myth, symbol, and ritual. These elements may seem foreign or even tainted with fiction, but we actually engage with these aspects in our everyday life. In fact, I’ll even be as bold to argue we cannot live without them. In this course, we will interrogate these mechanisms and illuminate the unseen world of our own trappings for the need of meaning.

Anthropology of Food

Food, it’s what’s for dinner… and lunch, and breakfast, and brunch, and snacking. It also shapes how we as people do things. This course provides a cross-cultural analysis on our impact on food as well as food’s impact on us. It doesn’t just examine what people eat but tries to explore the worlds food opens for us when we take our first bite or first glance or first smell. The objective of the class is to show the importance of food and the connections (as well as conflicts) it has on both human and non-human worlds.