Rebecca Seligman

Assistant Professor of Anthropology


Rebecca Seligman is a medical and psychological anthropologist who focuses on transcultural psychiatry, or the study of mental health in cross-cultural perspective. Her research interests involve critical examination of the social and political-economic forces that affect the experience and distribution of mental and physical illness, with an emphasis on the physical processes and mechanisms through which such forces become embodied. Seligman is interested in the relationships of stress, social disadvantage, and cultural models of selfhood to outcomes such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dissociation, somatization, diabetes, and depression. She is also exploring current neurobiological research concerning these phenomena. Her past research has explored the connection between mental health and religious participation in northeastern Brazil. She is in the process of preparing a book manuscript on this research.

Before joining Northwestern's faculty, Seligman completed a postdoctoral fellowship, funded by Canadian Institute of Health Research, in McGill University's psychiatry department. Her work has been published in academic journals in the fields of health, psychiatry, and anthropology, and was featured in the magazine Discover. The National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health have provided support for her research.

Current Research

Diabetes in Mexican Americans. This project involves an analysis of the links between diabetes and depressed affect among Mexican Americans. Seligman is investigating the dialectical relationship between Mexican American ethno-etiologies concerning negative emotion and diabetes onset. She has found that emotion and diabetes control are tightly linked in the experience of Mexican Americans, and that patients of Mexican origin hold different models of selfhood than the kind demanded by clinical models of diabetes self-care. These findings have important implications for diabetes management.

Selfhood, Depression, and Transnational Migration among Mexican Youth. Seligman is developing a new project to study the links among transnational migration, experiences and concepts of selfhood, and vulnerability to depressive affect.

Selected Publications

Seligman, R. 2010. The unmaking and making of self: Embodied suffering and mind-body healing in Brazilian Candomblé. Ethos 38(3): 297-320.

Mendenhall, E., R. Seligman, A. Fernandez, and L. Jacobs. 2010. Speaking through diabetes: Rethinking the significance of lay discourses on diabetes. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 24(2): 220-39.

Seligman, R., and R. Brown. 2009. Theory and method at the intersection of anthropology and cultural neuroscience. Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience doi:10.1093/scan/nsp032.

Seligman, R., and L Kirmayer. 2008. Dissociative experience and cultural neuroscience: Narrative, metaphor, and mechanism. Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry 32(1): 31-64.