Ian Whitmarsh, PhD

Title(s)Associate Professor, Humanities & Social Sciences
SchoolSchool of Medicine
Address3333 California Street
San Francisco CA 94118
Phone415-476-6164
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    My work uses critical religious studies, postcolonial theory, and psychoanalytic theory to examine trajectories of science and medicine from the Caribbean to North America and back. I have done anthropological fieldwork on how these trajectories relate to racialization and religious exclusion.


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    Racialization and Biomedical Ambiguity
    My early work analyzed the racialization of disease through biomedicine. My first book, Biomedical Ambiguity: Race, Asthma, and the Contested Meaning of Genetics in the Caribbean (2008 Cornell University Press), was based on anthropological fieldwork in Barbados, and explored how American genomics research on the African diaspora is exporting the American racial system to Caribbean countries. As a result, racial designations in science and medicine in the postcolonial country are hardening along the lines of American race. I have also contributed to analysis of American racialization through a book co-edited with David S. Jones, What's the Use of Race: Modern Governance and the Biology of Difference (2010 MIT Press). This volume brings together leading social science scholars examining the use of race and genetics in the courtroom and law enforcement, genomic science of human diversity, and inequalities of health and disease.

    The "Secular" Care of the Self
    My second ethnography rethinks the presumed secularity of the modern healthy subject by examining the Protestant characteristics of multinational techniques of caring for the self. The book explores how our modern “secular” communitas of health is founded historically in a Protestant congregationalism structured by its refusal of ritual, mysticism, and the priest. These latent Protestant commitments are revealed by the conflict that this “secularity” has as it has traveled across the north Atlantic from northern Europe to North America to the Caribbean country of Trinidad, where it confronts ecstatic manifestation, divination, and other troubling religious others. The book is based on fieldwork in southwestern Trinidad, in health clinics, Pentecostal and Presbyterian churches, and among practitioners of the African-Catholic ecstatic religious traditions in Trinidad of Spiritual Baptism and Orisha Worship. The healers and diviners of Orisha worship and Spiritual Baptism engage a world of afflictions that are carried by spirits and entities across long historical arcs of racial betrayal and across spirit regions—revealing a type of spiritual warfare enacted not by the battle between modern secularism and traditional religion but rather between a Protestantist secularity and other religious ways of inhabiting the world. The book is forthcoming from the University of New Mexico Press.

    I have also done recent work among convicted sex offenders and California state employees on new concepts of pedophilia as a neurochemical condition, creating novel forms of state intervention on sexuality and masculinity.

    My current research examines the significance of the psychotherapy approach called Internal Family Systems (IFS) for those who experience non-ordinary states that are deemed psychosis. This project proposes that IFS offers a novel form of intervention, one that is more closely aligned with the insights of those who experience the condition being treated.
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