Benjamin D. Koen’s article in the first anthology of “medical ethnomusicology” edited by the same author is devoted to relationships between conventional medical science and religion, through the study of dynamic movements between physical and spiritual phenomenon of human being in the case of the use of music and prayer for healing. The author seeks for universal and culturally transcendent principles of musical practice in healing process, and proposes an interdisciplinary methodology of analysis. His study is based on the case of maddahs from Badakhshan. Devotional musical rituals and songs (basically defined as praises of Prophet’s family, and especially ‘Ali, as it is developed by Shiite tradition, in the present case Ismaili) are seen as a “rare genre of devotional music, prayer, meditation and Persian mystical poetry that is performed for multi-cultural purposes, including the maintenance of health and healing (p. 94).” To the author’s eye it therefore constitutes a case study for a new conception of ethno-musicological medical studies.
In a developed introduction, B. D. Koen states that, when studying healing process, the physical should not be viewed as separated from the spiritual, as they are described by participants as one only function. He also advises readers to take “the lens of a researcher’s mind (. . .) as an effectual component of any healing context” (p. 94), as well as participants’ state of mind. This is what is called the “Human Certainty Principle (HCP)” described in this way (p. 95): “In the context of healing, the experience of the HCP, that is, the experience of certainty or a knowing that healing has occurred or is imminent, can be seen as both a result of healing and a cause of healing.” B. D. Koen then describes the way he studied the case of maddahs, having beforehand defined (p. 96) “the five factors of health and healing, namely the physical, psychological, social, emotional and spiritual factors of life—factors that describe the functional aspects of one whole that constitutes a human being,” which led him to favour an interdisciplinary approach, also reinforced by the diversity of maddahs’ modalities in Tajikistani Badakhshan. The author’s research team has included specialists on music and culture as well as on bio-medicine, naturopathy and conventional medicine. Though the author does not present an exhaustive ethnography on the maddahs’ ritual, he nevertheless lists general categories of prayer, and underlines in this case the fact that “music, prayer and meditation are intimately interwoven and cannot be broken apart into distinct categories.” The effect of music and prayer on ailment, in the author’s viewpoint, has to be considered as a whole dynamic the parameters of which should be analysed with both ethno-cultural and physiological issues taken into account. Schemas and models of analysis are proposed to define how confluence of music and prayer can be efficacious in the context of healing. Believing in the necessity of a holistic view of aetiology, B. D. Koen emphasizes the spiritual understanding of health in Badakhshan, which allows him to analyse healing as a process of changes in the “cognitive flexibility” of participants (p. 107), from the lower self (nafs) to the higher self (ruh/jân), changes that give them the capacity of being healed. Explaining his way to manage “experiment in the field”, he then describes how he used electrocardiogram and other physiological measures to assess stress level of participants, measures which corroborate his statements on “cognitive flexibility”. He also spoke with Pamiri doctors in order to make sure that his analysis is in line with local visions on health and spirit. The author then concludes: “The underlying reason that a musical intervention might be efficacious or negative in its effect involves not only the music itself but also the relationship between the music and the multidimensional landscape that constitutes a human’s being” (p. 117).
This article lacks ethnological data on the maddahs’ ritual and more generally on health culture in Tajikistani Badakhshan. Though they have been previously presented by the author in another article, they would have been useful in the present one besides schemas and medical notions only readable by specialists of medicine. The cognitivist aim of the author is quite clear, and coupled with physiological data. In short, Benjamin Koen gives an original methodology to analyse musical healing processes. He sure makes his best to overtake disciplinary divisions on a both ethno-musicological and medical phenomenon, an initiative that should be welcomed, especially when examining an under-studied area such as Badakhshan.