University of Heidelberg

Prof. Dr. William S. Sax

William S. Sax, Prof. Dr. Prof. Dr. William Sax
Head of Department


  • Professor and Head of Department of Anthropology, South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University
  • Principal Investigator

Contact Information

Heidelberg University
South Asia Institute
Department of Anthropology
Voßstraße 2, Building 4130
Room 130.02.21
69120 Heidelberg

Phone: +49 (0)6221 - 54 89 31

Office Hours

Registration only via mail !

Research foci

  • Ethnography of India
  • Anthropology of Religion
  • Medical Anthropology
  • Western Himalayas

Short biography

Prof. William S. Sax, PhD obtained degrees from the University of Washington in Seattle and Banaras Hindu University before earning his M.A. (1982) and PhD (1987) in Anthropology at the University of Chicago. He taught for two years at Harvard University and eleven years in Christchurch, New Zealand before becoming head of the Department of Anthropology in 2000.

Recent Conferences

  • "Therapeutic Uses of Possession", Heidelberg, November (2011)
  • "Mind and Body in Indian and European Medicine", Heidelberg (June 2012)
  • "Between Global Aspirations and Local Realities: India’s cities in interdisciplinary perspective", Delhi (March 2012)
  • "The future of social science research in Sri Lanka", Kandy and Colombo, Sri Lanka (February/March 2012)
  • "Global Mental Health",Heidelberg (June 2014), Istanbul (December 2015), Malta (December 2016)
  • “Local Knowledge for Global Problems: a transcultural approach” (with Annette Hornbacher), Jogjakarta (August 2018), Kandy (May 2019), Heidelberg (July 2019)


Selected Publications


  • 1991. Mountain Goddess: Gender and Politics in a Central Himalayan Pilgrimage. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • 1995. The Gods at Play: Lila in South Asia. New York: OUP. (edited volume)
  • 2002. Dancing the Self: personhood and performance in the pandav lila of Garhwal. New York: OUP. (monograph)
  • 2009. God of Justice: ritual healing in the central Himalaya. New York: Oxford University Press. (monograph)
  • 2010. The Problem of Ritual Efficacy. New York: Oxford University Press. (edited with Johannes Quack and Jan Weinhold).
  • 2015. The Law of Possession: ritual, healing, and the secular state. (Edited with Heléne Basu.) New York: OUP.
  • forthcoming: The Movement for Global Mental Health: critical views from South and Southeast Asia (Under contract with Amsterdam University Press)


  • 2001. (with Data Ram Purohit.) Shri Nanda Devi Raj Jat (in Hindi).


  • 1990. Village Daughter, Village Goddess: Residence, Gender, and Politics in a Himalayan Pilgrimage. American Ethnologist 17 (3):491-512.
  • 1990. The Ramnagar Ramlila: Text, Performance, Pilgrimage. History of Religions 30 (2): 129-53. (Reprinted in Singh Rana P. B., ed. 1993. Banaras (Varanasi) Cosmic Order, Sacred City, Hindu Traditions. Varanasi: Tara Book Agency, p. 257-73.)
  • 1993. Goddess or goddesses? Politics and Theology in the Study of Hinduism. Sites: a journal for radical perspectives on culture 25:105-117.
  • 1995. Introduction. In W. S. Sax, ed, The Gods at Play: Lila in South Asia. New York: OUP.
  • 1995. Who's Who in Pandav Lila? In W. S. Sax, ed, The Gods at Play: Lila in South Asia. New York: OUP, pp. 131-55.
  • 1997. Fathers, Sons, and Rhinoceroses: Masculinity and Violence in the Pandav Lila. Journal of the American Oriental Society 117 (2): 278-94.
  • 1998. The Hall of Mirrors: Orientalism, Anthropology, and the Other. American Anthropologist 100 (2): 22-31.
  • 1999. State Sovereignty vs. Human Rights: a Reply to Paul Morris. Asia Quarterly July-September 1999: 8-9.
  • 2000. In Karna's Realm: an ontology of action. Journal of Indian Philosophy 28 (3): 295-324.
  • 2000. Conquering the Quarters: Religion and Politics in Hinduism. International Journal of Hindu Studies 4(1): 39-60.
  • 2004. Healing Rituals: a critical performative approach. Anthropology and Medicine 11 (3): 293-306.
  • 2004. Reply to Reviewers. Review Forum, (Review of W. S. Sax, Dancing the Self: Person-hood and Performance in the Pandav Lila of Garhwal.) Journal of Ritual Studies 18 (3)
  • 2005. Introduction (with Stefan Ecks). In Ecks, Stefan and William S. Sax, eds. The Ills of Marginality: new perspectives on subaltern health. Nov. 2005.
  • 2009. “I have no one!” Ritual Healing and Family Relationships in Garhwal. In Caterina Guenzi and Ines Zupanov, eds., Purusartha 27, Divins remèdes. Médecine et religion en Inde.
  • 2010. Introduction. In The Problem of Ritual Efficacy, ed Johannes Quack, William Sax, and Jan Weinhold. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • 2010 (with Johannes Quack). Introduction: The Efficacy of Rituals. The Journal of Ritual Studies 24 (1): 5-12.
  • 2010 (with Jan Weinhold and Jochen Schweitzer), “Ritual Healing East and West: a comparison of ritual healing in the Garhwal Himalayas and family constellation in Germany.” The Journal of Ritual Studies 24 (1): 61-77.
  • 2011. “Healers.” In Knut Jacobsen and Helene Basu, eds., Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism.
  • 2013. “The Reality of 21st Century Islamic Healing – an Interview with a Muslim Healer.” Curare 36 (3): 168-71.
  • 2014. “Ritual Healing and Mental Health in India.” Transcultural Psychiatry 51 (3): 829-49.
  • 2017 (with Axel Michaels). “Performance and Religion”. In The Oxford Handbook of Religion, ed. Michael Stausberg and Steven Engler. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


  • 1987. Kumbha Mela. In Mircea Eliade, et al, eds., Encyclopedia of Religion. New York: Macmillan & Co.
  • 1991. Ritual and Performance in the Pandavalila of Uttarakhand. In Arvind Sharma, ed., Essays on the Mahabharata, p. 274-95. Leiden: E. J. Brill.
  • 1992. Pilgrimage Unto Death. In Jim Veitch, ed., To Strive and Not to Yield: Essays in Honour of Colin Brown. Wellington, New Zealand: Victoria University Press.
  • 1993. Lila. In William Scott Green, ed., Harper's Dictionary of Religion.
  • 1994. Gender and Politics in Garhwal. In Nita Kumar, ed., Women as Subjects: South Asian Histories, pp. 172-210. Calcutta
  • 1996. Draupadi and Kunti in the Pandav Lila. In The Wild Goddess in South Asia, ed. Axel Michaels and Cornelia Vogelsanger. Zurich: Studia Religiosa Helvetica, Vol. 1, pp. 355-81.
  • 1996. Hinduism: Reverence for the Natural Environment. In James Veitch, ed., Can Humanity Survive? The World's Religions and the Environment, p. 51-68. Auckland: Awareness Book Company.
  • 1999. Worshiping Epic Villains: A Kaurava Cult in the Central Himalayas. In Beissinger, Margaret, et al, eds. Epic Traditions in the Contemporary World: the Poetics of Community. Berkeley: UCB Press, pp. 169-186.
  • 1999. Gender and the Representation of Violence in Pandav Lila. Chapter 10 in I. Julia Leslie, ed., Gender Constructs in Indian Religion and Society. Delhi: Motilal.
  • 2000. Residence and Ritual in the Garhwal Himalayas. In Maheshwar P. Joshi and Allen C.
  • Fanger and Charles W. Brown, eds., Himalaya: Past and Present, Volume IV, pp. 79-114. Almora, India: Shree Almora Book Depot.
  • 2001. The Pandav Lila of Uttarakhand. In Molly Kaushal, ed., Chanted Narratives: the Living "Katha-Vachana" Tradition. Delhi: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, pp. 165-174.
  • 2002. Heilungsrituale: Ein kritischer performativer Ansatz. Paragrana 12.1-2: 385-404.
  • 2002. Pandav Lila. In Peter J. Claus and Margaret A. Mills, eds. South Asian Folklore: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge.
  • 2002. Ram Lila. In Peter J. Claus and Margaret A. Mills, eds. South Asian Folklore: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge.
  • 2003. Divine Kingdoms in the Central Himalayas. In Niels Gutschow, et al, eds., Sacred Landscapes of the Himalaya. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischan Akademie der Wissenschaften.
  • 2004. Heilrituale der Dalits im indischen Zentral-Himalaya. In Dietrich Harth und Gerrit Jasper Schenk, Hrg., Ritualdynamik: KulturÜbergreifende Studien zur Theorie und Geschichte rituellen Handelns. Heidelberg: Synchron 2004, 363-380.
  • 2004. Addicted to Justice, Ecstatic in Union. Paragrana 13: 62-77.
  • 2006a. A Divine Identity-Crisis. In KÖpping, Klaus-Peter and Bernhard Leistle and Michael Rudolph eds. Ritual and Identity: Performative Practices as Effective Transformations of Social Reality/ Hamburg / MÜnster / London: LIT.
  • 2006b. At the Borders of Morality: Rituals of Aggression. In Henrik Jungaberle and Rolf Verres, eds.
  • 2006c. Agency. In Kreinath, Jens and Jan Snoek and Michael Stausberg, eds., Theorizing Rituals: Classical Topics, Theoretical Approaches, Analytical Concepts, Annotated Bibliography. Leiden: Brill.
  • 2009. “Performing God’s Body.” Paragrana 18 (1): 165-187.
  • 2009. “Religion, Possession, and the "hysteresis effect": a case study from India.” In Elfriede Hermann, Karin Klenke, Michael Dickhardt, eds.,Form, Macht, Differenz: Motive und Felder ethnologischen Forschens. Goettingen: Universitatsverlag Goettingen, pp. 181-189.
  • 2010. (with Jan Weinhold). “Rituals of Possession.” In Brosius, Christiane and Ute Husken, eds. Ritual Matters: the Dynamics of Change and Stability, pp. 236-252. Delhi: Routledge.
  • 2010. „Besessenheit, Geste und Ritual: der Fall des muslimischen Dämonen Sayyid.“ In Wulf, C. & E. Fischer-Lichte, eds., Gesten: Inszenierung, Aufführung, Praxis. William Fink
  • 2011. “A Himalayan Exorcism.” In Hillary Rodrigues (ed.), Studying Hinduism in Practice. London and New York: Routledge, pp 146-57.
  • 2012. “A Himalayan Healer's Reports.” In Carsten Zelle, et al, eds., Der ärztliche Fallbericht: Epistemische Grundlagen und textuelle Strukturen dargestellter Beobachtung, pp. 287-304. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
  • 2012. (with Karin Polit). “Moved by God.” In Koch, Sabine et al, eds, Body Memory, Metaphor and Movement. Vadrina, Frankfurt (Oder): John Benjamins.
  • 2015. “Oracular Possession, Authenticity, and the Ideology of Absence.” In Helene Basu and William Sax, eds., The Law of Possession.
  • 2019. “The Birth of the (Exorcism) Clinic: media, modernity, and the jinn.” In Michaels, Axel and Christoph Wulf, eds.. Routledge.

Public Lecture

  • “Ritual Healing,” a one-week seminar at Lubjana University in Slovenia, 03/09
  • “Shamanic Nosologies”, University of Bochum, 06/09 and University of Arizona, 12/09
  • “Demonic Justice: a case from the court of Pokkhu Devta,” Muenster, 05/09
  • “A Non-Modern Healing Practice”, University of Iowa, 04/10
  • “Religion, Possession, and the “hysteresis effect”: a case study from India”, University of Iowa, 04/10
  • “Mental Health in Developing Countries”, Munich, 12/10
  • “Power, Control, and Emotion in Garhwali Possession Rituals, Goa, 01/10
  • “Mit Ritualen Heilen,” 05/10, Berlin
  • “Oracular Possession and the ‘ideology of absence’," Vienna, 11/11; Paris, 02/12; Harvard, 08/12
  • “Transcultural Psychiatry,” Paris, 05/11; Ketchikan, Alaska, 08/12
  • “Discipline and Ecstasy: The Kandy and Kataragama Festivals in Sri Lanka, Oslo, 06/11
  • “Therapeutic Possession as an Expression of Holism,” Heidelberg, 11/11
  • “Ritual Healing and Psychiatry in India,” Muenster, 02/12; McGill University 07/12; Harvard University 08/12
  • “Divine Kingship and Distributed Agency,” IIAS Shimla, 04/12
  • “From Kautilya to Latour: land and people in the Divine Kingdoms of Rawain,” IIAS Shimla, 04/12
  • “Performing God’s Body,” Zadar, Croatia, 05/12
  • “An Alternative Modernity in the Western Himalayas,” Vienna, 06/12
  • “Forgetting how to be Possessed,” Paris, 07/12
  • “Family Unity and Ritual Healing,” Lisbon, 07/12
  • “Ritual Healing and Psychiatry in India,” Muenster, 02/12; McGill University 07/12; Harvard University 08/12
  • “Divine Kingdoms in the Western Himalayas: Oracular Authority and Distributed Agency,” Oxford, 02/13; Stanford 09/15
  • “Global Mental Health-Promises and Pitfalls: the view from Ethnology,” Ludwig Maximilian University Munich, 11/13
  • “Anthropology meets Psychiatry: the cultural epidemiology of ritual healing” Emory University, Northern Arizona State University University of California at Santa Barbara, April 2014; Freie Universität Berlin and Münster University, May 2014; Tallinn, Estonia, July 2014; Stanford, California 09/15
  • Keynote Speech, “The Efficacy of Ritual,” at INTAR conference, Liverpool, June 2014
  • “Ritual Healing in the Himalayas,” Budapest, July 2014
  • “Do Rituals Heal?”, Budapest, July 2014, Robert Bosch College (Freiburg), January 2016
  • “An anthropological critique of psychiatric epidemiology,” Zürich, July 2014
  • “The Birth of the (Exorcism) Clinic: media, modernity and the Jinn” Tübingen 07/15; UC San Diego 10/15
  • “Divine Kingship in the Western Himalaya,” University of Arizona, 4/17
  • “Outsourcing Possession: media, modernity, and the jinn”, JNU (Delhi) 11/15; Durham University 2/16, Columbia University 3/18, Harvard University 3/18
  • “The Ontology of the Gods of the Western Himalayas” IUAES conference, Dubrovnik, 5/16
  • “Diagnosis by Ritual Healers," MAAH conference Norway, 6/15
  • “The Medicalization of Medical Anthropology,” Keynote address to the Association of Social Anthropologists, UK, Durham, 6/15
  • “Global Mental Health and the Death of the Gods,” Malta, 12/16
  • “Songs of the Gods from the Western Himalayas,” Tel Aviv, 6/16
  • “Ontology of the Devtas,” Dubrovnik, 5/16
  • “The Efficacy of Ritual Healing,” Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Allegre, Brazil, 6/16; LEEA-CCH, Campos dos Goytacazes, Brasil, 7/13
  • “Traditional Healing and Mental Health: an Anthropologists View,” Keynote Address, Global Mental Health Symposium, Munich, 10/17
  • “The Gods of the Western Himalaya as Agents and as Intentional Beings,” Marcay, France, 12/17, Harvard University 3/18, City University of New York 3/18

Finished Projects

  • 2002-2005 SFB 619 Teilprojekt A4
    "Handlungspotential (agency) und territoriale Rituale in Indien"
  • 2001-2005 DFG-Projekt SA 930/1-1 & 930/1-2
    "Umstrittene Zentren: Konstruktion und Wandel sozio-kultureller Identitäten in der indischen Region Orissa"
  • 2001-2005 DFG-Projekt SA 930/4-1 + 930/4-2
    "Dokumentation eines Heilkultes im Zentral-Himalaya und dessen Analyse im Rahmen der "kritisch-interpretativen Medizinethnologie" und der "Performanz-Theorie"
  • 2004 DFG 4850/92-04 Kongress-Zuschuss
    "The Ills of Marginality: New Perspectives on Subaltern Health in South Asia"
  • July 2005 - June 2009 SFB 619 Sub-Project A5
    Ritual Healing and its critics
  • AROGYAM (Indian-European Research Networking Programme in the Social Sciences (ANR-DFG-ESRC-NOW) EUR €225,600
  • Cluster of Excellence Mini-Cluster MC-11, 2012-2017, “Changing Minds: the transcultural production of human kinds” (a study of ritual, history, and the sciences of mind) EUR 829,250.00

Curriculum vitae

Curriculum vitae: Download (pdf)

 Contents of the right column
Centre for
Asian and

Ethnology in Heidelberg
Conferences, Publications and externl lectures

The department on events

Recent Publications

Can migrants be indigenous?
Affirmative action, space and belonging in the Andaman Islands.

Dr. Philipp Zehmisch

Artikle PDF

Bringing Subalterns into Speech?
Investigating Anarchic Resistance to Hegemonic Modernity

Dr. Philipp Zehmisch

Article PDF

Book Chapter

The Routledge Handbook of Refugees in India

Dr. Philipp Zehmisch


Book Chapter

Energies Beyond the State:
Anarchist Political Ecology and the Liberation of Nature

Dr. Philipp Zehmisch



The Movement for Global Mental Health: Critical Views from South and Southeast Asia

(Ed.) Prof. Dr. William Sax with Claudia Lang



Unani Medicine in the Making:
Practices and Respresentations in 21st-century

Dr. Kira Schmidt Stiedenroth


Book Chapter

Patriots in Kala Pani:
Writing Subaltern Resistance into the National Memory

Dr. Philipp Zehmisch



Reviving “A forgotten Sunna:” Hijamah (cupping therapy), prophetic medicine, and the re-Islamization of Unani medicine in contemporary India

Dr. Kira Schmidt Stiedenroth

Online article


2018. "We are like the river water, always flowing" : some urban nomads of Delhi. In: Soziale Ästhetik, Atmosphäre, Medialität

Prof. Dr. William Sax

UB Heidelberg