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Anthropology | Julia Cassaniti

Ph.D., The University of Chicago
Associate Professor
Cultural Anthropology: Psychological/Medical Anthropology

Research Interests

Social Anthropology, Psychological Anthropology, Medical Anthropology, Cognition, Mental Health, Religious Experience, Gender/Sexuality, Temporality, Technology, Affect, Agency, Theravāda Buddhism, Contemporary Society in Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Japan, and across Transnational South/East Asia.

I am engaged in research examining the co-construction of culture and mind, with an ethnographic focus on Buddhist and other spiritual practices of Southeast and East Asia. In my work I ask how ontological assumptions are constructed in and through cultural/religious practice; how they are interwoven into the psychology of everyday social life in the region; and the implications these have for understanding global health and well-being. I teach undergraduate and graduate level courses based on these interests in anthropological theory, culture, mind, religion, and the body, and supervise MA and PhD students on projects engaging with these issues in medical and psychological anthropology.

Current Research

Impermanence: Culture, Change, and Mental Health

For the past twenty years I have been engaged in a longitudinal, cross-cultural research project that examines Buddhist ideas about impermanence, and their implications for cognition and mental health in a changing world. Through interviews and ethnographic fieldwork I am drawing out some of the complex ways that local notions of impermanence are connected non-attachment, moral causation (karma), personhood, and resilience in Thailand, Japan, and across transnational Asia. The project engages with issues of gender, sexuality, emotion, and new forms of modern subjectivities, and involves comparative work in Buddhist and Christian communities. Work on this project can be found in Living Buddhism: Mind, Self, and Emotion in a Thai Community (Cornell U. Press, 2015), winner of the American Anthropological Association’s Stirling Prize for Best Published Book in Psychological Anthropology.

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Technologies of Attention: Cultural Variation in Attention, Cognition, and Perception

In a wide-reaching research project on perception and attention I am seeking to understand globally-variable patterns of well-known cognitive heuristics, and their foundations in cultural practices of attention. I am especially interested in the frequency bias, a quirk of perception in which a phenomenon to which one is newly alert suddenly seems ubiquitous.

Spirits of the Mind, Spirits of the Land

Spiritual energies are thought to circulate in psychological and physical space in many parts of the world, inviting people to engage with their surroundings in intriguing, patterned ways. The practical means by which people deal with these forces are thought to have implications for bodily, mental, and environmental health, from psychological dissociation and spirit possession to haze pollution brought on by contract farming and more.

Mindfulness in Southeast Asia

Based on ethnographic data I gathered from more than 600 monks, psychiatrists, and lay Buddhist practitioners in the Theravāda areas of Thailand, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka, this project reveals some of the cultural aspects of mindfulness considered central to the workings of mental health in the region.



burma-mindfullness_800x590website 13_147x100Dr. Cassaniti interviewing a local man about his encounter with the spirit of a brother-in-law.


Cassaniti, Julia. 2015.
Living Buddhism: Mind, Self, and Emotion in a Thai Community
Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Cassaniti, Julia and Usha Menon, eds. 2017. Universalism Without Uniformity: Explorations in Mind and Culture. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Cassaniti, Julia. 2018. Remembering the Present: Mindfulness in Buddhist Asia. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Remembering the Present book cover.

Selected Research Publications

Cassaniti, Julia. 2022. Memory, Ghosts, and the Good Life: Sati in Theravāda Cultural Contexts.”
Anthropology Today, 38(2), 4-8. Guest Editorial in a Special Issue on Cultures of Mindfulness, Julia Cassaniti and Joanna Cook, eds.

Cook, Joanna and Julia Cassaniti. 2022. Mindfulness and Culture: The Future of the Mindfulness
Movement and the Promise of Anthropology.” Anthropology Today, 38(2), 1-3. Guest Editorial for
a Special Issue on Cultures of Mindfulness, Julia Cassaniti and Jo Cook, eds.

Cassaniti, Julia. 2022. “Encountering Impermanence, Crafting Change: A Case Study of Alcoholism
and Attachment.” In Impermanence: Exploring Continuous Change Across Cultures. Cameron Warner, Ton Otto, and Haidy Geismar eds. UCL Press. 65-82.

Cassaniti, Julia. 2021. “Up in Smoke: Cosmopolitical Ecologies and the Disappearing Spirits of The Land in Thailand’s Agricultural Air Pollution” In Cosmopolitical Ecologies Across Asia: Places of Power in Changing Environments. Riam Kuyakanon, Hildegard Diemberger, and David Sneath, eds. Routledge. 62-80.

Cassaniti, Julia. 2021. “Mindfulness or Sati? The Cultural Diversity of a Global Concept for
Resilience and Mental Health.” Journal of Global Buddhism, (22):105-121. Part of a Special Issue on Buddhism and Resilience, Nalika Gajaweera and Darcie DeAngelo, eds.

Cassaniti, Julia. 2019. “Keeping It Together: Idioms of Resilience and Distress in Thai Buddhist Mindfulness.” Transcultural Psychiatry, 56(4): 697-719. In a special issue on idioms of distress.

Cassaniti, Julia. 2018.“Wherever You Go, There You…Aren’t?” In Meditation, Buddhism, and Science. David Mitchell and Erik Braun eds. Oxford University Press. 131-152.

Cassaniti, Julia. 2016. “Return to Baseline: A Woman with Chronic Acute Onset, Non-Affective Remitting Psychosis in Thailand.” In Our Most Troubling Madness: Case Studies in Schizophrenia across Cultures. Tanya Luhrmann and Jocelyn Marrow (eds). University of California Press. 167-179.

Cassaniti, Julia. 2015. “The Asanha Bucha Day Sermon: Boring, subversive, or subversively boring?” The Journal of Contemporary Buddhism, 16(1): 224-243. In a special issue on Theravada Buddhist sermons.

Cassaniti, Julia. 2015. “Intersubjective Affect and the Embodiment of Emotion: Feeling Supernatural in Thailand.” The Anthropology of Consciousness, 26(2): 132-142. For a special issue on affect theory.

Cassaniti, Julia L and Tanya Marie Luhrmann. 2014. The Cultural Kindling of Spiritual Experiences. Current Anthropology. DOI: 10.1086/677881. (In German: Cassaniti, Julia and Tanya Luhrmann. 2017. “Die kulturelle Erweckung spiritueller Erfahrung.” Zeitschrift fűr Anomalistik, 16:85-114.)

Cassaniti, Julia. 2014. “Moralizing Emotion: A Breakdown in Thailand.” In Anthropological Theory. Part of a special issue on morality, Julia Cassaniti and Jacob Hickman, eds.

Cassaniti, Julia. 2014. “Meditation and the Mind: Neurological and Clinical Implications of Buddhist Practice” In Panitan: Chiang Mai University’s Journal of Philosophy and Religion, 7-30.

Cassaniti, Julia. 2014. “Buddhism and Positive Psychology.” In Positive Psychology of Religion and Spirituality Across Cultures. Chu Kim-Presto, ed. Springer Press.101-124.

Cassaniti, Julia. 2013.“Melford Spiro: Psychological Anthropologist of Buddhism in Southeast Asian Society” John McGee and Richard Warms, eds. Theory in Social and Cultural Anthropology: An Encyclopedia. SAGE Publishers.

Cassaniti, Julia. 2013. “The Rural Radio DJ.” In Figures of Southeast Asian Modernity, Joshua Barker, Erik Harms, and Johan Lindquist, eds. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press.

Cassaniti, Julia. 2012. “Agency and the Other: The Role of Agency for the Importance of Belief in Buddhist and Christian Traditions.” Ethos: The Journal of Psychological Anthropology. 40(3): 297–316.

Cassaniti, Julia. 2011. “The constitution of mind: what’s in a mind? Interiority and boundedness: Calling in the souls: The kor khwan ritual in Thai spiritual encounters.” Co-authored with Joel Robbins (UCSD) and Tanya Luhrmann (Stanford U). In a special issue organized as part of a Stanford Conference on “Anthropological Theories of Mind.” Suomen Antropologi, The Finnish Anthropological Society, 36 (4): 15-20.

Cassaniti, Julia. 2011. “Encountering the Supernatural: A Phenomenological Account of Mind.”; Co-authored with Tanya Luhrmann (Stanford U). Religion and Society, 2: 37-53.

Cassaniti, Julia. 2009. Control in a World of Change: Emotion and Morality in a Northern Thai Town. PhD dissertation, Department of Comparative Human Development, The University of Chicago.

Cassaniti, Julia. 2006. “Toward a cultural psychology of Impermanence in Thailand.” Ethos: The Journal of Psychological Anthropology. 34(1), 58-88. (Winner of the Condon Prize for Best Graduate Essay in Psychological Anthropology)

Cassaniti, Julia. 2002. “Meditation at the Mall.” Seeds of Peace: Journal of Engaged Buddhism and Asian Issues. Sathirakoses-Nagapradeepa Foundation. 18(2), 25-26.



  • ANTH 591 – Religion and the Body
  • ANTH 522 – Culture and Mind
  • ANTH 554 – Anthropological Field Methods


  • ANTH 490 – Integrative Themes in Anthropology
  • ANTH 390 – History of Anthropological Thought
  • ANTH 303 – The Anthropology of Religious Experience
  • ANTH 302 – Childhood and Culture
  • DIVR 203 – Global Cultural Diversity

Student Research Projects

  • Miranda Wootton (M.A.) “Mindreading” and the Learning of Cultural Theories of Mind in Cognitive Behavioral Therapeutics: A Comparison of the United States and Thailand
  • Jason Hwanjin Chung (Ph.D.) Drug Addiction Treatments, Attachments, and Models of the Person in the Global South
  • Xinyi Zhao (M.A.) Psychiatric Approaches to Psychosis and Normality in Thai Theories of Mind
  • Daphne Weber (Ph.D.) Bhikkhuni ordination: Healing Among Thai Female Monks at the Margins
  • Piyawit Moonkham (Ph.D.) Mythscapes: An Ethnohistorical Archeology of Space and Narrative of the Naga in Mainland Southeast Asia
  • Anna Jordan (Ph.D.) Incarcerated Morality: The Navigation of Moral Personhood Among Recently Released Prisoners in Southern California
  • Chaise Jung (M.A.) An Ethnographic Study of Dreams and Migration in Tonga
  • Roxanna King (Ph.D) Witchcraft Beliefs in Southeastern Cameroon
  • Mihiret, Mesganaw (Ph.D) Imagined Placemaking: Tizita, “Place-Based Nostalgia,” and the Creation of Immigrant Selves Among Amhara Ethiopians in Minnesota, USA
  • Matthew Newsom (Ph.D) The Politics of Dreaming: Collective Memories, Emotion, and Imaginaries in Berlin
  • Emily Casillas (Ph.D) Mothering Practices in indigenous communities in Lima, Peru
  • Chia Hinchliff (M.A. A Thread of Continuity: Spiritual Journey Through Yarn in Honor of Wixarika Ancestors in Mexico
  • Jessica McCauley (M.A.) The Embodiment of Knowledge: Djinn Healing in Mali

Dr. Cassaniti can be contacted via email or phone (509.335.8224) about these and related issues.