His PhD thesis focuses on medico-religious practices in the Zhengao 真誥 [Declarations of Perfection], a late 4th century collection of revealed scripture, and highlights the absence of clear distinctions between orthodox medicine, religious Daoism, cults of transcendence and other traditions in the Six Dynasties period (222-589). It examines the kinds of knowledge about the body in circulation during this time, who wielded that knowledge, and the kinds of power it afforded: the power to heal; to attain transcendence; to perform rituals; to contest imperial authority. It also discusses the aggregation of technical and theoretical knowledge into broad repertoires of techniques and discourses. The selection that actors made from available techniques, the admixture of their salvific and therapeutic aims better describes the formation of local cults and cultures than artificially discrete notions of 'religion' and 'medicine'.
Michael has held research appointments at the Institute of History and Philology in Academia Sinica, Taiwan, the Needham Research Institute, Cambridge and the University of Pittsburgh. Michael currently serves as the Treasurer of the International Association for the Study of Traditional Asian Medicine, the leading scholarly and practitioner organisation in this field.
His broader research interests include the transformation of self and identity through bodily practices in early medieval and modern China; the social history of therapeutic practice; and the ways in which bodily experience and repertoires of self-care span medical and religious practice, and notions of subjectivity and objectivity. This has led him to extend beyond focussing on a central orthodoxy based in medical 'classics', to examine the broad therapeutic diversity of China then and now. He also follows the contemporary anthropology of medicine and of religion in China and Asia more widely, and has done extensive fieldwork in Taiwan, Sichuan, and Maharashtra, India.
Michael also engages in public outreach, gives practitioner-oriented courses on literary Chinese for medical translation, and has developed workshops on producing video clips for public outreach and research presentations.
The Medico-religious Market in Early Medieval China
Daoists and Doctors: The role of Medicine in Six Dynasties Shangqing Daoism.
Handbook of Chinese Medicine, co-edited with Dr. Vivienne Lo, Routledge Asian Studies series.
Nourishing Nature, Extending Life: A survey of early medieval Chinese Yangsheng,Golden Elixir Press.
Publications: Articles, Chapters and Reviews
Forthcoming 'Health in Early Medieval China', in Peter Adamson ed., Health, Oxford Philosophical Concepts series, OUP.
2013 'Palpable Access to the Divine: Therapeutic Massage, Visualisation and Internal Sensation', Asian Medicine: Tradition and Modernity, Vol. 7.1 (2012).
2011 'Chinese Medicine', in Mark Jackson ed., The Oxford Handbook of the History of Medicine, Oxford: OUP, 150-168. Co-authored with Vivienne Lo.
2011 Review: 'Worlding Chinese Medicine' by Zhan Mei, Asian Medicine: Tradition and Modernity, Vol. 6.1, 164-170.
2011 'Science and Religion in China'. Presented at AAS, Hawai'i, 2011.
2009 'Doctors, Daoists and Deviants in Early China'. Presented at History of Medicine in Motion, London, 2009, and 5th International Daoist Conference, Wudangshan, 2009.
2013 Daoists and Doctors - The role of medicine in Six Dynasties Shangqing Daoism. PhD, UCL. 324 pp.
2006 To Cultivate Inner Nature: A textual history and critical translation of the Tang dynasty Yangxing yanming lu 養性延命錄. MA, Indiana University Bloomington. 231 pp.