Sarah Willen

Associate Professor of Anthropology, PhD, MPH, Emory University
Director, Research Program on Global Health & Human Rights, Human Rights Institute

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 also 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 also has edited or co-edited three books and five special journal collections and authored over 35 articles and book chapters on issues of migration and health, health and human rights, social justice mobilization, medical education, and other topics, including recent pieces in the Lancet (Syndemic Vulnerability and the Right to Health), Health and Human Rights Journal (“Health Is a Human Right – at CDC?”), Medical Anthropology Quarterly (“Do Illegal Migrants have a Right to Health? Engaging Ethical Theory as Social Practice at a Tel Aviv Open Clinic”), and Social Science and Medicine (How is health-related “deservingness” reckoned? Perspectives from unauthorized im/migrants in Tel Aviv).

Willen’s work has received support from the National Science Foundation, Fulbright-Hays, the Social Science Research Council, the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the Lady Davis Fellowship Trust, the Amy Adina Schulman Memorial Fund, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 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, and Principal Investigator of 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”), funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Department Profile


(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)

(2019)  “Invoking Health and Human Rights in the United States.” Special section of Health and Human Rights Journal. Sarah S. Willen, guest editor. 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. Sarah S. Willen, guest editor. 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). Sarah S. Willen, guest editor.  45(3).

Articles (select )

(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)   Holmes, Seth M., Ernesto Castañeda, Jérémy Geeraert, Heide Castañeda, Ursula Probst, Nina Zeldes, Sarah S. Willen, Yusupha Dibba, Raphael Frankfurter, Heidi E. Fjeld, and the Global Migration Working Group. “Deservingness: Migration and Health in Social Context.” BMJ-Global Health.

(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. doi: 10.1097/PHH.0000000000001171.

(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)   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. doi: 10.1097/PHH.0000000000001171.

(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. DOI: 10.1089/pop.2019.0179.

(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.

(2015)   Fleischman, Yonina, Sarah S. Willen, Nadav Davidovitch, & Zohar Mor. Migration as a Social Determinant of Health for Irregular Migrants: Israel as Case Study. Social Science & Medicine. 147: 89-97.

(2014)   Plotting a Moral Trajectory, Sans Papiers: Outlaw Motherhood as Inhabitable Space of Welcome. Ethos. 42(1): 85-100.

(2012)   Introduction: Migration, Illegality, and Health: Mapping Embodied Vulnerability and Debating Health-Related Deservingness. Social Science & Medicine. 74(6): 805-811.

(2011)   Do Illegal Migrants have a Right to Health? Engaging Ethical Theory as Social Practice at a Tel Aviv Open Clinic. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 25(3): 303-330.

(2011)   Willen, Sarah S., Jessica Mulligan, & Heide Castañeda. Take a Stand Commentary: How Can Medical Anthropologists Contribute to Contemporary Conversations on Illegal Immigration and Health? Medical Anthropology Quarterly 25(3): 331-356.

Fellowships and Awards (select)

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–)

Principal Investigator, ARCHES | the AmeRicans’ Conceptions of Health Equity Study (2017–)

Network partner, WAIT: Waiting for an uncertain future: the temporalities of irregular migration, University of Bergen, Norway (2015–20)

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

Media (select)

Media (on campus)

Blog posts (select)