UCL Anthropology


"Inner Worlds": Psychological and Psychiatric Anthropology


Key words:

mind, self, subjectivity, emotion, mental illness, psychiatry, psychotherapy, self-cultivation, well-being, healing


Research Projects:

  • Mental health in Bhutan: Local Practices of Well-being and Experience of Illness and Treatment (Calabrese) This project in Bhutan explores experiences of mental illness and its treatment as they relate to religious practice and broad cultural understandings. Bhutan initiated modern mental health care very recently. The first psychiatry unit opened only in 1997 at Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH). Mental health care is developing in a context in which traditional interpretations of mental illness (dominated by Buddhism and other spiritual frameworks) pervade. Calabrese is using ethnographic methods, combined with clinical practice in the field, to study local cultural psychology, how Bhutanese understand mental illness and its treatment, and what the lives of people with mental illness are like in Bhutan.
  • Buddhist Mindfulness Techniques and Health in Thailand and the UK (Cook) This project explores the explicit links being drawn between scientific and Buddhist understandings of mental suffering and the use of Buddhist 'mindfulness' techniques as a means of encouraging health and well-being in the UK. This research explores both the forms of subjective inwardness inculcated by mindfulness practices and the complexity of the social dynamics in which such techniques are variously employed. Ethical practices and paths are crossing and becoming mutually dependent, albeit non-symmetrically. Of interest here are the ways in which the self is conceptualized in therapeutic and religious contexts, and the transformations that the practice of mindfulness effects and is intended to effect upon that self.
  • The Phenomenology of Prayer in Three Religious Communities in England (Littlewood)


  • 24th November 2012: Dr. Jo Cook contributed to a discussion about mindfulness and well-being on Encounter, Radio National, Australian National Broadcasting Corporation. Listen to the program online on ABC Radio.
  • 10th - 11th January 2013: Dr. Jo Cook presented a paper on cultivating happiness through meditation at the LSE conference, Values of Happiness: Ethnographic Perspectives on Living Well.
  • 7 September, 2012. Dr. Joe Calabrese presented a paper on "Traditional and Modern Understandings of Mental Illness in Bhutan: Preserving the Benefits of Each to Support GNH" to the Centre for Bhutan Studies. Thimphu, Bhutan.

Teaching Activities

  • Anthropology and Psychiatry
  • Ritual Healing and Therapeutic Emplotment
  • Anthropology of Ethics and Morality

Selected Publications