Ph.D. University of California, Los Angeles (2018)
M.A. University of California, Los Angeles (2012)
B.A. Sarah Lawrence College (2009)
Research and Teaching Interests
Medical and psychological anthropology; anthropology of ethics and morality; disaster; anthropology of care; mental health and psychic life; biopolitics; critical phenomenology; experimental ethnography; South Asia and the Himalayas
Aidan Seale-Feldman is a medical anthropologist interested in affliction and its treatments—psychiatric, therapeutic, spiritual, and anthropological. As a medical and psychological anthropologist, she has spent the past decade conducting in-depth ethnographic research in the Himalayas, a region with a rich tradition of shamanic healing that has recently witnessed the rapid growth of psychiatry, counseling, and new forms of mental health governance. Grounded in ethnographic explorations of disaster, mental health, and mass hysteria, her research asks how to approach forms of affliction that are not bound within the individual but instead move across bodies, environments, and generations.
Based on two years of fieldwork in Nepal (2014-2016), her first book project, The Work of Disaster: Crisis and Care Along a Himalayan Fault Line, is an ethnography of mental health governance in Nepal in the aftermath of disaster. In 2015, the central region of Nepal was struck by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake and 7.3 magnitude “aftershock.” The disaster claimed the lives of over 9,000 people, left half a million homeless, and inspired a brief shock of humanitarian care for the mental health of Nepali people. Set in the time of the 2015 earthquakes, The Work of Disaster moves between Kathmandu NGO offices, steep mountain trails, psychosocial interventions, and earthquake-affected villages as it tells the story of an emergent “mental health crisis,” the ethics of care, and the quest to build Nepal’s mental health system in times of emergency.
In Nepal, Dr. Seale-Feldman has also conducted research on mass hysteria and collective affliction among teenage girls. In this work she engages a symmetrical approach to theory in medical anthropology in order to rethink psychiatric models of psychosomatic disorders in dialogue with Nepali analytics of affliction and care. In collaboration with anthropologist Dr. Serena Bindi (Université Paris Cité/CANTHEL), Dr. Seale-Feldman is the Main Project Partner on Phantoms or Phantasies?: Somatic Disorders and Embodied Experiences of Loss in Changing Therapeutic Contexts, supported by the French National Research Agency (ANR). This project, asks how the expansion of global mental health and humanitarian psychosocial interventions are changing subjectivity, experiences of grief, and relations with the dead across the Himalayan region.
Dr. Seale-Feldman’s current project, Ethical Substance: Psychedelic Medicine in Times of Social and Spiritual Crisis, builds on her previous work on mental health and psychic life by exploring the “psychedelic renaissance” and psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy in the United States. While psychiatry is rapidly expanding throughout the Global South, in the Global North increasing dissatisfaction with the efficacy of SSRIs and psychiatric treatment modalities have inspired a flood of new research on psychedelic plant medicine to treat addiction, anxiety, PTSD, and depression. The widespread enthusiasm for psychedelic medicine is striking, especially given that for substances such as psilocybin, therapeutic efficacy is strongly correlated with the presence of “mystical experience.” With support from the John Templeton Foundation, Ethical Substance brings together perspectives in anthropology, psychiatry, philosophy, theology, and religious studies to explore the incorporation of spiritual experiences into the lives of secular Americans and their therapeutic practices.
Dr. Seale-Feldman’s research has been supported by grants from the John Templeton Foundation, Wenner-Gren Foundation, the UCLA Center for the Study of Women, the Foundation for Psychocultural Research, and the UC Chancellor’s Prize, among others. Her work has been published in Cultural Anthropology, Ethos, HIMALAYA: The Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies, South Asia: Jounral of South Asian Studies, and the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, as well as in public venues such as Somatosphere, The Record Nepal, and Cultural Anthropology online. From 2019-2021, she served as co-editor of The Screening Room, an experimental ethnographic film series hosted on the Society for Cultural Anthropology’s Visual and New Media Review.
Since 2018 Dr. Seale-Feldman has been a Research Associate in the Centre d’Anthropologie Culturelle (CANTHEL) at the Université de Paris. Prior to joining the faculty at Notre Dame, she was a Postdoctoral Research Associate and Lecturer in Bioethics at the University of Virginia.