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 culture, the meanings people ascribe to illness, and the social lives of medicines fascinate me. My work is also attuned to  how people navigate processes of migration and social change. My research takes me to the Nepal Himalaya and Tibetan regions of China, as well as to diasporic communities from these regions now living in the United States. 

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As a cultural and medical anthropologist, I am invested in understanding the multiple ways that so-called 'traditional' medical systems interact with biomedicine and global health: 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, identity, and citizenship, including how experiences of diaspora and exile impact subjectivities as well as concepts of "health" and health seeking behaviors, and how they shape possibilities of and for care.

Much of my work, including my book Healing Elements: Efficacy and the Social Ecologies of Tibetan Medicine, investigates contemporary Tibetan medicine in Nepal and Tibetan areas of China and as a globalizing "complementary and alternative" medicine. I analyze how practitioners 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,  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, religious symbolism and ritual practice, and as important figures in agro-pastoral life, including during moments of intense and rapid socio-economic change. The research I conducted at this time forms the basis of Horses Like Lightning: A Story of Passage Through the Himalayas, a work of creative nonfiction. I remain interested in dynamics between human and non-human lives and ways of being. 

I am committed to writing across genres. My children's book, Clear Sky, Red Earth: A Himalayan Story, with Nepali artist Tenzin Norbu, is in its third edition and has also been published in Tibetan. I have collaborated with photographer Kevin Bubriski on Mustang in Black and White, a project that combines Bubriski's images of Mustang, Nepal, with my text. I have worked with new music composer Andrea Clearfield on several projects - Tse Go La and Khandroma - which include my original poetry and are inspired by Tibetan and Himalayan cultural worlds. My current book project combines narrative ethnography with short fiction to relay lived experiences within and between Nepal and New York City. 

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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

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:

2018. Mustang in Black and White. Photographs by Kevin Bubriski, Text by Sienna Craig. Kathmandu: Vajra Publications.

2018. Orality and Mobility: Documenting Himalayan Voices in New York City. N.T. Gurung, R. Perlin, D. Kaufman, M. Turin, S.R. Craig. Verge: Studies in Global Asia 4(2): 64-80.

2018. Orienting to Medicine: Scripting Professionalism, Hierarchy, and Social Difference at the Start of Medical School. S.R. Craig, R. Scott, K. Blackwood. Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry.

2018. The Khora of Migration: Everyday Practices of (Well)-Being between Mustang, Nepal and New York City. S.R. Craig and N.T. Gurung, In D. Gellner and S. Hausner, eds. Global Nepalis: Religion and Culture in a New Diaspora. Oxford and New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 271-300.

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.

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

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.

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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