A fine balance : family, food, and faith in the health-worlds of elderly Punjabi Hindu women

dc.contributor.authorKoehn, Sharon Denise
dc.contributor.supervisorUhlemann, Max R.
dc.contributor.supervisorStephenson, Peter H.
dc.degree.departmentDepartment of Educational Psychology and Leadership Studiesen_US
dc.degree.levelDoctor of Philosophy Ph.D.en_US
dc.description.abstractThe principle aim of this inquiry is to understand how elderly Hindu Punjabi women utilize and shape Ayurvedic knowledge in the broader context of their lives. Do these precepts constitute a way of knowing in the world as women, as seniors, as immigrants? Ayurveda furnishes a wealth of indigenous categories of understanding, which can function as epistemological tools, providing one means by which these elderly women are able to build more cohesive constructions of their selves and their current realities. While my interest lies in discerning health-related behaviours and beliefs, my research agenda reflects the scope and priorities of the women themselves who include in this domain a broad array of topics, most notably, family relations, food, and religion. So as to examine the continuity of constructions among the elderly subsequent to migration, the sample includes both elderly Punjabi Hindus who have migrated to Greater Vancouver, Canada (n = 10), as well as a comparable sample still residing in northwest India (n = 10). The methodology employed was a reflexive process which entailed a period of initial sensitization to relevant concepts (Hindi language training, participant observation), followed by a series of in-depth semi-structured interviews. While capable of eliciting more specific information on health and healing, this method simultaneously encouraged ‘life story’ constructions. The ‘critical-interpretivist’ stance (Scheper-Hughes and Lock) adopted for this study considers not only how people construct their worlds but the relations of power which constrain their choices. This paradigmatic position is articulated within a ‘three bodies’ framework which delineates the individual body, the social body, and the body politic. Other important theoretical influences include social science perspectives on emotion, selfhood and food. Profiles of two each of the women now living in India and Canada are presented so as to preserve the integrity of the women's stories which are otherwise fragmented by the subsequent analysis wherein all interviews are considered collectively according to common themes. The most predominant themes were (1) the socially-embedded nature of health and well-being which references especially, but not exclusively, relationships within the extended family; (2) the relationships drawn between particular foods, beverages, herbs and spices and one's mental, spiritual and physical health, (3) the all-pervasive idiom of balance; and (4) the complex interrelationships between that which is sacred, detached, and not confined to this life and more temporal concerns such as attachment, pride and so forth which ground people in this world. Evidence of a higher order category which unites all four themes—a recognition of the strong interrelationships between mind, body, and spirit—is apparent in every interview. So, too, however, is the competing ideology of the egocentric self coupled with an allopathic (dualistic) medical paradigm which seeks to separate spirit from mind, mind from body. A fifth theme is thus the accommodation of these two competing ideologies in the women's life-worlds. In sum, Ayurveda provides a rich metaphorical language according to which broadly conceived health concerns which are deemed to originate in familial concerns and other stressors such as loneliness can be readily discussed in terms of food. The ability to utilize this wealth of metaphor is most typically forsaken when religion is no longer integral to their lives in some form or another. The compartmentalization of religion, appears to reflect a more dualist (allopathically influenced) world-view in which holistic conceptions of self and health are marginalized.en_US
dc.rightsAvailable to the World Wide Weben_US
dc.subjectPanjabis (South Asian people)en_US
dc.subjectWomen, East Indianen_US
dc.subjectWomen's studiesen_US
dc.titleA fine balance : family, food, and faith in the health-worlds of elderly Punjabi Hindu womenen_US


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