Sienna Radha Craig

Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology
Asian Societies, Cultures, and Languages Program
Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program

The worlds of healing across cultures, the meanings people ascribe to illness, and the social lives of medicines fascinate me. I am also deeply curious about how communities navigate processes of migration and social change. My research takes me to the Nepal Himalaya and Tibetan regions of China.

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As a cultural anthropologist, I am invested in understanding the multiple ways that so-called 'traditional' medical systems interact with biomedicine: from patient-healer relationships and the cultural meanings people ascribe to suffering and affliction; to the wider socioeconomic and political circumstances in which medical practitioners are trained, healing occurs, and medicines are produced, evaluated, and distributed. Much of my work is collaborative, interdisciplinary, and trained on applying critical medical anthropology perspectives and insights to ground truth health care realities in a variety of transnational contexts. I also have an abiding interest in studies of ethnicity and identity, including how experiences of diaspora and exile impact subjectivities, concepts of "health" and health seeking behaviors.

My work investigates contemporary Tibetan medicine, both in Nepal and Tibetan areas of China and as a globalizing "complementary and alternative" medicine. I analyze how practitioners of Tibetan medicine transmit knowledge between generations, and how they are professionalizing. I also address the translation of science across cultural, epistemological, and ideological borders by documenting what happens when Tibetan medicines are made to adhere to biomedical standards of drug safety and quality, and as they are evaluated through clinical research in Asia and the West. In Nepal and China, where I work, these dynamics reflect nation-building agendas and the politics of identity; they also illuminate an expanding global market for complementary and alternative medicines and point to the ethical, economic, and environmental challenges inherent in producing traditional medicines for mass markets.

I first traveled to Nepal in 1993, on an undergraduate study abroad program, and have been returning to this part of the world ever since. My earliest ethnographic work centered on ethnoveterinary practices and human-animal interactions, with a specific focus on the role of the horse in local culture and economy, as well as in religious symbolism and ritual practice, as well as life in pastoral communities at moments of intense and rapid socio-economic change. The research I conducted at this time forms the basis of my ethnographic memoir, Horses Like Lightning: A Story of Passage Through the Himalayas. I am committed to writing across genres – from poetry and creative nonfiction to children’s literature and narrative ethnography. 

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(603) 646-9356
403B Silsby
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Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
The John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding
B.A. Brown University (1995)
M.A. Cornell University (2002)
Ph.D. Cornell University (2006)

Selected Publications

2017. Barriers to Tuberculosis Care Delivery among Miners and their Families in South Africa: An Ethnographic Study. LV. Adams, S.W. Grande, S.R. Craig, M.T. Partridge, N. Panth, V. Trump-Redd, M. Phalaste, A. Singo, K. Ntshekang, P. Osewe, A.G. Mulley. International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease 21(5): 571-578.

2017. What is Anthropology? In What is …? In D. Rockmore, ed. A guided Tour of the Great Ideas of the Liberal Arts. Lebanon, NH: University of New England Press.

2017    Ethnically Tibetan Women in Nepal with Low Hemoglobin Concentration Have Better Reproductive Outcomes. J.I. Cho, B. Basnyat, C. Jeong, A. DiRienzo, G. Childs, S.R. Craig, J. Sun, and C.M. Beall. Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health 2017(1): 82-96. DOI:

2016. Naming and Forgetting: Sowa Rigpa and the Recognition of Asian Medical Systems. S.R. Craig and B. Gerke. MedicineAnthropologyTheory. URL:

2016. Craig, S., C.M. Beall, G. Childs. Closing the Womb Door: Contraception Use and the Fertility Transition among Three Generations of Buddhist Women in Highland Nepal. Accepted, Maternal Child Health, special issue on mountain communities. DOI 10.1007/s10995-016-2017-x.

2015. (Co)Producing Efficacious Medicines: Collaborative Event Ethnography with Himalayan and Tibetan Sowa Rigpa Practitioners. C. Blaikie, S. Craig, B. Gerke, and T. Hofer. Current Anthropology 56(2): 178-204

2018    Exploring the Surgical Gaze through Literature and Art. K. Kirkland and S.R. Craig. Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) 319 (15): 1532-1534. URL:

2015. Alternative Accounting in Maternal and Infant Global Health. V. Adams, S. Craig, A. Samen. Global Public Health. DOI: 10.1080/17441692.2015.1021364 

 2014. Depopulation on a Himalayan Scale: Educational and Monastic Child Migration from Ethnically Tibetan Valleys in Nepal. G. Childs, S. Craig, C. Beall, B. Basnyet. Mountain Research and Development 34(2): 85-94.

2014. Tibetan Medicine in the World: Local Scenes, Global Transformations. In T. Hofer, ed. Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine. Seattle: University of Washington Press, pp. 110-125.

2012. Healing Elements: Efficacy and the Social Ecologies of Tibetan Medicine. Berkeley: University of California Press.

2011. Migration, Social Change, Health, and the Realm of the Possible: Women’s Stories from Nepal to New York. Anthropology and Humanism 36(2):193-214.

2010 Medicine Between Science and Religion: Explorations on Tibetan Grounds. V. Adams, M. Schrempf, and S. Craig eds. London and New York: Berghahn Books.

2008. Horses Like Lightning: A Story of Passage through the Himalayas . Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications.

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