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Rebecca Seligman

Associate Professor of Anthropology

PhD, Anthropology, Emory University, 2004

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 understanding the mechanisms through which social experiences 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, and she is co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of Cultural Neuroscience. Her past research has explored the connection between mental health and religious participation in northeastern Brazil. Her book on this research is titled Possessing Spirits and Healing Selves: Embodiment and Transformation in an Afro-Brazilian Religion.

Before joining Northwestern's faculty, Seligman completed a postdoctoral fellowship, funded by the 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, National Institutes of Health, and the William T. Grant Foundation have provided support for her research. Seligman’s public scholarship on health and medicine has appeared in outlets including STAT News, Scientific American, and the LA Review of Books.

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.

Culture, Selfhood, and Psychiatric Diagnosis Among Mexican Youth. Seligman’s latest project investigates the disproportionately high levels of depression, anxiety, and suicidal behavior among Latino youth in the United States. In particular, her project examines sociocultural influences on the ways in which Latino youth conceptualize and experience their emotions, relationships, and ultimately, their sense of self—and how such influences affect their help seeking and experiences with mental healthcare. 

Selected Publications

ojaheto, Bethany, Douglas Medin, and Rebecca Seligman. In press. Cognition beyond the human: Cognitive psychology and the new animism. Ethos.

Seligman, R. 2018. Mind, body, brain and the conditions of meaning. Ethos 46(3): 397-417.

Seligman, R. 2017. “Bio-looping” and the psychophysiological in religious belief and practice: Mechanisms of embodiment in Candomblé trance and possession. In The Palgrave Handbook of Biology and Society, ed. M. Meloni, J. Cromby, D. Fitzgerald, and S. Lloyd, 417–439. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Seligman, R., S. Choudhury, and L.J. Kirmayer. 2015. Locating culture in the brain and in the world: From social categories to an ecology of mind. In The Oxford Handbook of Cultural Neuroscience, ed. J. Chiao, S. Li, R. Seligman, and R. Turner. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Seligman, R. 2014. Possessing Spirits and Healing Selves: Embodiment and Transformation in an Afro-Brazilian Religion. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Seligman, R., E. Mendenhall, M. Valdovinos, A. Fernandez, and E. Jacobs. 2014. Subjectivity and self-care among Mexican Americans with diabetes. Medical Anthropology Quarterly. 29(1):61-79.    

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.

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