Anthropology of Consciousness – New Editors, New Direction

Editor’s Note: I’m excited to have this guest post from Rebecca Lester and Peter Benson, the new editors of Anthropology of Consciousness. The direction they are taking the journal aligns well with the interdisiplinary approach of neuroanthropology, both synthetic and anthropological at once, and builds on decades of work in anthropology on consciousness and experience cross-culturally.

The Anthropology of Consciousness

By Rebecca Lester and Peter Benson

We are delighted to be stepping into the role of co-editors of the Anthropology of Consciousness. Our primary goals as editors are to advance the publication of innovative work on consciousness and human experience and to continue to grow the relevance of the Anthropology of Consciousness across a range of academic disciplines as well as for policy development and clinical work.

We hold a broad conception of consciousness and seek work that will enhance the journal’s transdisciplinary and cross-subfield scope and reach. In our view, questions of consciousness really traverse anthropology in one form or another, encompassing a whole range of topics and themes.

We envision the Anthropology of Consciousness as bringing together empirically rich scholarship from across anthropology and from other disciplines to consider questions of consciousness up and down micro and macro levels: from the politics of neurology, to the phenomenology of sleep disorder, to the historical restructuring of mental health care, to the formation of collective consciousness in the context of social movements.

Among many other topics, we welcome research articles on such topics as trauma, mental health, memory, identity, the self, religion, spirituality, the body, and affect.We embrace a continued focus on the traditional topics of interest in the Anthropology of Consciousness.

In our view, one of the journal’s strengths is the sustained focus on non-Western, indigenous, subaltern, and alternative forms of subjective experience and sociality. We welcome submissions on such themes as states of consciousness, psychoactive substances, shamanism, and religious and spiritual traditions.

We are especially interested in the journal’s role in contributing to the anthropology of health and healing. Anthropology of Consciousness is already well-known for high-quality and cutting-edge work on alternative and complementary medicine.

Building on this strength, we encourage scholarship that develops, within these sites, rich theorizations of how local healing systems, and the forms of conscious and unconscious experience they enlist, are evolving and adapting amid the expansion of biomedicine, Western psychiatry, pharmaceutical logics, and biotechnology.

We welcome research articles focusing on the changing public life of alternative and non-Western therapies, the ways that the media, political transitions, and the various dimensions of globalization involve new challenges, and also new and different possibilities for indigenous healing systems and shamanistic and religious traditions.

We encourage authors to consider how particular case studies, ethnographic materials, or phenomenological accounts speak to theoretical perspectives on the influence of large-scale systems and global processes on mental life and subjective and social experience under diverse circumstances.

We hope to make a contribution in the area of the clinical and policy implications of the research that is published in the journal, thereby enhancing its public visibility and real world impact. For example, research attending to the effects of violence or trauma can be mobilized in dialogue with critical legal perspectives on moral personhood and culpability.

Research on diverse healing systems, including complementary and alternative medicine, can be more effectively promoted as essential for attending to the management of health care and health problems. Studies concerning altered states of consciousness and perceptions of reality can be brought into more direct dialogue with research in both neuroscience and artificial intelligence about processes of decision-making.

While individual authors often address these connective themes in their articles, we believe our more overarching editorial prioritizing of such aims will further distinguish the journal as a unique and valuable resource for scholars, researchers, and practitioners alike.

As part of advancing these initiatives we are publishing a series of special issues, one per year, as a means of culturing a transdisciplinary conversation about matters of consciousness by bringing voices from outside of the academy—including scientists and policy makers, clinicians and patients, ordinary people, and ritual experts—into meaningful dialogue with anthropologists.

For more information about the journal, please contact Peter Benson ( or Rebecca Lester (

Link to the Anthropology of Consciousness website, including submission guidelines.

This post is reprinted from the Anthropology News December 2012 issue.

Photo Credit: We Can’t Know What We Can’t Know but We Cannot Unknow What We Are post on Culture War, Class War

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