Sarah Willen

Associate Professor, PhD, MPH, Emory University, 2006

Sarah S. Willen, PhD, MPH is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Connecticut and Director of the Research Program on Global Health and Human Rights at the university’s Human Rights Institute. A former NIMH Postdoctoral Fellow in Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, she holds a PhD in Anthropology and an MPH in Global Health, both from Emory University.

Willen’s first book Fighting for Dignity: Migrant Lives at Israel Margins (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019), has won multiple awards, and she is a two-time recipient of the Rudolf Virchow Prize from the Critical Anthropology of Global Health Caucus of the Society for Medical Anthropology. She has edited or co-edited three books and seven special journal collections and authored over 45 articles and book chapters on issues of migration and health, health and human rights, deservingness, flourishing, medical education, and other topics, including pieces in the Lancet, Social Science & Medicine, Social Science & Medicine-Mental Health, Ethos, and Jewish Social Studies.

Willen’s work has received support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Fulbright-Hays, the Social Science Research Council, the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), among other sources. A former Member-at-Large of the Executive Board of the Society for Medical Anthropology, she is a current or past editorial board member for Social Science & Medicine; Social Science & Medicine-Mental Health; Culture, Medicine, & Psychiatry; and Medical Anthropology Quarterly.

Willen is Co-Founder of the Pandemic Journaling Project, a combined journaling platform and research study about the lived impact of COVID-19, Principal Investigator of the RWJF-funded ARCHES | the AmeRicans’ Conceptions of Health Equity Study, an interdisciplinary, mixed-methods study of how people in the United States think about health, fairness, and social interconnectedness (“health-related deservingness”), and Co-Principal Investigator of an NSF-funded study of Covid-19’s impact on first-generation college students and their families.


(2019)  Fighting for Dignity: Migrant Lives at Israel’s Margins. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

  • Stirling Prize for Best Published Book in Psychological Anthropology, Society for Psychological Anthropology (2020)
  • Edie Turner First-Book Prize in Ethnographic Writing, Society for Humanistic Anthropology (2020)
  • Yonathan Shapiro Prize for Best Book in Israel Studies, Association for Israel Studies (2019)
  • Finalist for the Jordan Schnitzer Book Award in Social Sciences, Anthropology, and Folklore, Association for Jewish Studies (2020)
  • Shortlisted for the Victor Turner Prize, Society for Humanistic Anthropology (2020)

(2011)  Shattering Culture: American Medicine Responds to Cultural Diversity. Mary-Jo DelVecchio Good, Sarah S. Willen, Seth Hannah, Ken Vickery, and Lawrence T. Park (eds). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

(2010)  A Reader in Medical Anthropology: Theoretical Trajectories, Emergent Realities. Byron Good, Michael M.J. Fischer, Sarah S. Willen, Mary-Jo DelVecchio Good (eds.). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

(2007)  Transnational Migration to Israel in Global Comparative Context. Sarah S. Willen (ed.). Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Journal issues (guest edited)

(2022)   Flourishing and Health in Critical Perspective: An Invitation to Interdisciplinary Dialogue. Special series in Social Science and Medicine—Mental Health. 2.

(2022)  Journaling and Mental Health during COVID-19: Insights from the Pandemic Journaling Project. Special series in Social Science and Medicine—Mental Health. 2. Katherine A. Mason, Sarah S. Willen, & Heather M. Wurtz, guest editors.

(2019)   Invoking Health and Human Rights in the United States. Special section of Health and Human Rights Journal. 21(1).

(2013)   Cultural Competence in Action: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Four Case Studies in Medical Education. Special issue of Culture, Medicine, & Psychiatry. Elizabeth Carpenter-Song and Sarah S. Willen, guest editors. 37(2).

(2012)   Migration, ‘Illegality,’ and Health: Mapping Vulnerability and Debating ‘Deservingness.’ Special issue of Social Science & Medicine. 74(6).

(2012)   Horizons of Experience: Reinvigorating Dialogue between Phenomenological and Psychoanalytic Anthropologies. Special Issue of Ethos. Sarah S. Willen and Don Seeman, guest editors. 40(1).

(2007)   Exploring ‘Illegal’ and ‘Irregular’ Migrants’ Lived Experiences of Law and State Power. Special Issue of International Migration. 45(3).

Articles (select)

(2022)   Flourishing and Health in Critical Perspective: An Invitation to Interdisciplinary Dialogue. Social Science and Medicine—Mental Health. 2: 100045.

(2022)   “Languishing” in critical perspective: Roots and routes of a traveling concept in COVID-19 times. Social Science and Medicine—Mental Health. 2: 100128.

(2022)   Sarah S. Willen, Abigail Fisher Williamson, Colleen C. Walsh, Mikayla Hyman, William Tootle. Rethinking Flourishing: Critical Insights and Qualitative Perspectives from the U.S. Midwest. Social Science and Medicine—Mental Health. 2: 100057.

(2022)   Colleen C. Walsh, Sarah S. Willen, & Abigail Fisher Williamson. Learning to See Racism: Catalysts of Perspective Transformation among Stakeholders in a Regional Health and Equity Initiative. Journal of Population Health Management and Practice.

(2021)   Willen, Sarah S., Nasima Selim, Emily Mendenhall, Miriam Magaña Lopez, Shahanoor Akter Chowdhury, Hansjörg Dilger, and the Global Migration Working Group. Flourishing: Migration and Health in Social Context. BMJ-Global Health. 6:e005108.

(2021)   Willen, Sarah S.,  Colleen C. Walsh, & Abigail Fisher Williamson. Visualizing Health Equity: Qualitative Perspectives on the Value and Limits of Equity Images. Health Education & Behavior. 48(5) 595–603.

(2020)   Sarah S. Willen, Sebastian Wogenstein, & Katherine A. Mason. Everyday Disruptions and Jewish Dilemmas: Preliminary Insights from the Pandemic Journaling Project. Jewish Social Studies 26(1): 192-212.

(2020)   Katherine A. Mason, Sarah S. Willen, Seth M. Holmes, Heide Castañeda, Mark Nichter, Denise Herd, Helena Hansen. How Do You Build a ‘Culture of Health’? A Critical Analysis of Challenges and Opportunities from Medical Anthropology. Population Health Management. 23(6): 476-481.

(2019)   Health Is A Human Right at CDC? Ethnographic Insights from a Federal Museum Exhibition. Health and Human Rights Journal. 10(1): 163-177.

(2017)   Willen, Sarah S., Michael Knipper, César E. Abadí­a-Barrero, & Nadav Davidovitch. “Syndemic Vulnerability and the Right to Health.” The Lancet. 389: 964-77.

Fellowships and Awards (select)

Community-Engaged Health Research Excellence Award, UConn Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention and Policy (InCHIP) (2022)

Future of Truth Fellow, UConn Humanities Institute (2021-22)

Faculty Fellow, UConn Humanities Institute (2013-14)

Rudolf Virchow Award Critical Anthropology of Global Health Special Interest Group, Society for Medical Anthropology (2004, 2012)

Certificate of Distinction in Teaching, Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning & Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Education, Harvard University (2008, 2009)

Fellow, Center for Health, Culture & Society, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University (2005-06)

David R. Blumenthal Award in Jewish Studies & the Humanities, Emory University (2004)

Marjorie Shostak Prize for Excellence & Humanity in Ethnographic Writing, Emory University (2003)

Teaching interests

Undergraduate: Medical anthropology, immigration and health, the Middle East, anthropology of Jews and Jewishness

Graduate: Embodiment and experience, anthropology and the clinical encounter, health and human rights, dignity and health, flourishing and well-being in interdisciplinary perspective, anthropology and the writer’s craft


Co-founder, The Pandemic Journaling Project (2020–)

Co-curator, “Picturing the Pandemic(2022–)

Co-Principal Investigator, “The Impact of Covid-19 on the Educational and Career Outcomes of First-Generation College Students and their Families,” National Science Foundation. K.A. Mason, PI; A. Flores &  S.S. Willen, Co-PIs. (2022–)

Co-Principal Investigator, “Understanding and Coping with the Long-term Mental Health Impact of Covid-19 among Immigrant Women in New York City,” Peter G. Peterson Foundation. K.A. Mason, PI; A. Flores, S.S. Willen, H.M. Wurtz, Co-PIs. (2022–)

Principal Investigator, ARCHES | the AmeRicans’ Conceptions of Health Equity Study, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. S.S. Willen, PI; C.C. Walsh & A.F. Williamson, Co-PIs. (2017–)

Co-founder and co-editor, AccessDenied: A Conversation on Unauthorized Immigration and Health (2009-15)

Public scholarship (select)

Media (select)

Media (on campus)

    Contact Information
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