Select Language

A Comparative Studies on the Cultural Immune Systems against Covid-19

Special Theme Category:Modern Civilization and Infectious Diseases

Project Leader:SHIMAMURA Ippei

Project Period:December 2020-March 2023

Purpose and content of the project

The near-simultaneous spread of COVID-19 across the globe has highlighted a latent sense of discrimination in society. In this context, as Kenji Yoshida argued, the significance and raison d’être of all the systems and norms that humanity has created since the beginning of modern times are once again being questioned. On the contrary, religious scholar Hiromi Shimada argued that the pandemic has fatally injured religion. This is because religion is based on the gathering of believers, and the pandemic has caused significant restrictions on their activities. However, when it comes to micro and local cultural practices in which anthropology has been interested, people do not necessarily gather. Rather, it is thought that various countermeasures have been taken against COVID-19, which can be referred to as the “cultural immune system.” This study will compare and examine the ways in which the “cultural immune system” has been activated against COVID-19 in East Asia (Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Mongolia, and Siberia), while also considering other regions such as Africa and Europe.

As Akinori Hamada highlights, biomedicine is overwhelmingly effective for infectious diseases. On the contrary, there are local differences in terms of coping strategies, including how biomedicine is implemented. Therefore, we refer to the “cultural immune system” as the “way of handling the COVID-19 crisis,” and we collect examples of “local measures” in various countries, regions, and sites.

In Mongolia, for example, the raison d’être of established religions is being questioned, as evidenced by the fact that the Gandan Monastery, the head temple of Buddhism, has not been able to attract people to its rituals to pray for the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Contrarily, there were large-scale demonstrations to hold the government and the National Emergency Committee accountable for incidents that violated traditional motherhood worship (transporting a postpartum woman with COVID-19 without winter clothing), which led to the resignation of the cabinet in February this year.

We will clarify how traditional cultural practices, such as medicinal herbs and talismans, have been incorporated into prevention and treatment during epidemics, including the COVID-19 crisis, in Beijing, Shenyang, and Quanzhou, in China.

We will examine specific cases of prejudice and discrimination against medical professionals in Japan, considering how society has attempted to eliminate this as the “cultural immune system.” In addition, we will invite not only researchers but also medical practitioners and COVID-19 patients as guest speakers to discuss how to deal with the crisis in Japan.

In South Korea, the COVID-19 crisis has brought about the topic of “improving immunity” and stimulated discussion on “building a healthy body” to protect oneself. We will clarify how the private sector and Korean traditional medicine are changing health behavior in response to new diseases.

We will discuss the various aspects of the immune system of these cultures in research groups with researchers specializing in various fields and regions, not limited to anthropology, and eventually, hold an international symposium.

Expected results

The policy level response of each country to the COVID-19 crisis has been made visible via the mass media. On the contrary, the local and micro-level and the cultural responses, rather than the medical responses of hospitals and other institutions, are less clear. By conducting fieldwork at the right time, it will become clear what kind of cultural practices are being implemented in each country in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

It can be said that the crisis has raised the significance of not only modern systems but also local cultural practices. We hope that, based on the case of East Asia, it will be possible to model to some extent how “culture” will be refined, and what will remain. This project also aims to produce a book in English. We believe that disseminating our research results in English will attract a certain level of attention.

International Symposium

Saturday, March 4 – Sunday, March 5, 2023
Minpaku Special Research Project International Symposium
 ”Coping with COVID-19: A Comparative Study on Cultural Immune Systems”