SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Pathway in Medical Anthropology

Overview and entry requirements

The MA Medical Anthropology pathway is an interdisciplinary course of study designed to understand and address pressing global challenges in health and mental health from diverse perspectives. Our students will be able to customise their curriculum to their interests and aspirations. In addition to their core modules in medical anthropology, they will be able to create an interdisciplinary plan of study across departments and schools. Students will learn to engage with new approaches and concepts to creatively approach problems and create innovative solutions for the complex and interconnected issues of health, society, governance, culture, and mental health in particular. The aim is to train aspiring analysts, consultants, practitioners, academics, advocates, educators, and experts who will be able to tackle the grand challenges of our time, particularly in the post pandemic world, where understanding the social and political embeddedness of health and the ensuing mental health crisis is paramount. Students are taught by a unique and interdisciplinary team of scholars from across SOAS, including anthropologists who are actively engaged in clinical and policy aspects of mental healthcare as well as in the Coronavirus pandemic.

Taught as an alternative pathway through the MA Social Anthropology programme, the MA Medical Anthropology pathway is distinctive not only in its comparative approach and focus on cultures of health and wellbeing pertaining to the so-called 'Global South', but also in its being informed by clinical, psychological, biomedical, STS, as well as anthropological perspectives. It provides an introduction to the practices and perspectives of medical anthropology by offering historically contextualized analysis as well as critiques of specific assumptions in biomedical cultures. It combines anthropological theory with ethnographic research in order to examine historical and contemporary dilemmas and to cover a range of topics including health and wellbeing in relation to gender, race, language, memory, psychoanalysis, science and technology, and religion. The programme approaches health beyond the limited idea of the absence of illness; rather, it considers health in the broadest sense of a meaningful participation in the life of society.

Students will also be introduced to the bioethical implications of ongoing cultural and technological shifts, and will be asked to consider these debates as frameworks to engage with current affairs and global conditions pertaining to health, inequality, conflict, and justice. The programme provides a historical overview of the sub-disciplines of medical anthropology and psychological anthropology as well as an understanding of the distinct approaches of interpretive medical anthropology and critical medical anthropology, both of which deeply rooted in historical debates around mental health, sanity, and subjectivity. While it underscores phenomenological approaches, it places them within broader cultural, political, and economic context. There is a very strong cross-cultural and comparative approach in this module, manifest in our engagement with ethnographic as well as theoretical contributions from the so-called Global South.

Our aim

introduce students to anthropological studies of health and wellbeing, biomedical and psychological sciences, as well as institutional belief systems, philosophies, and practices
provide an understanding of the social, historical, philosophical, cultural, political, and technological forces that shape discourses of health and mental health consider how health and disease are linked with discourses of science, technology, religion, justice, capitalism, and globalization
provide a historically and culturally situated understanding of bioethical discourses and the ethical stakes of a wide range of healing philosophies and practices including that of medicine.

The degree is suitable for students with an intellectual interest in anthropological approaches to the study of health and mental health in particular, as well as for those who work in health care. Students come to our course from all over the world, following BA studies, work and travel experience, or after long careers in development, policy, or public health related fields. The course is also uniquely suitable for medical students, students of biomedical sciences, and healthcare professionals, with the possibility of customising an individual MA/MD degree for medical students.

Why study Medical Anthropology Pathway at SOAS?

SOAS is ranked 5th in the UK in the QS World University Rankings 2021 for Anthropology, and 16th in the world everyday interdisciplinarity is part of the identity of our institution. SOAS offers a unique plural environment where departments are closely connected and where students of medical anthropology are embedded in conversations with world leading scholarship on a range of anthropological studies of various value systems, cultural framings, literary and artistic expressions, philosophies and religions. These include SOAS’s outstanding expertise on yoga, African literature, religions, food, music, gender, inequality, and regional studies. We draw on the exceptional regional expertise of our academics in Asian, African, and Middle Eastern languages and politics, many of whom have joined us with a practical working knowledge of their disciplines. We draw on the clinical and scientific expertise of our teaching staff wide a wide range of backgrounds including medicine and psychiatry join our community of alumni and academics who have an impact on the outside world of academia flexibly structure your programme using our programme optional modules and/or our Open Options modules from other departments, including the opportunity to learn a regional language we are specialists in the delivery of languages; your command of a language at SOAS will set you apart from graduates of other universities.


Students will be expected to attend only lectures and do not attend seminars or submit any assessments. Students may choose to take this module (worth 15 credits) as part of their 120 credits from the option lists. A full list of available modules can be found on the 'Structure' tab of the MA Social Anthropology programme page.

Pathway Convenors

Orkideh Behrouzan and Fabio Gygi