Anita Hannig is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Brandeis University, where she teaches classes on medicine, religion, gender, and death and dying. Hannig’s work explores the cultural dimensions of medicine, with a particular focus on birth and death. In recent years, Hannig has emerged as a leading voice on death literacy and education in the United States, appearing on podcasts and other media platforms that tackle Americans’ changing relationship with death.
Her first long-term research project examined the socio-cultural dimensions of obstetric fistula, a maternal childbirth injury that leads to chronic incontinence and affects about one million women across the Global South. Between 2008 and 2010, she conducted research at two fistula repair and rehabilitation centers in Ethiopia. This work culminated in several articles and her first book, Beyond Surgery: Injury, Healing, and Religion at an Ethiopian Hospital (2017). The book upends the classic story of cultural primitivism a lay public has been told about fistula and interrogates the idea of heroic global medical interventions. In 2018, Beyond Surgery was awarded the Eileen Basker Memorial Prize from the Society for Medical Anthropology.
In 2015, Hannig launched a multi-year research project on medical aid-in-dying in the United States. This project asks how assisted dying laws are transforming the ways Americans die. Hannig has spent hundreds of hours talking with patients, families, physicians, lawmakers, and activists across the country. As part of her research, she also served as a hospice volunteer and sat in on countless court cases and public hearings on aid-in-dying. Hannig’s mission is to move beyond a polarizing national debate by uncovering people’s real-life experiences with these laws. In analyzing ideas around human dignity, mortality, and self-determination, her work aims to enrich scholarly and public conversations on end-of-life care.
Hannig earned her BA in Anthropology from Reed College and her MA and PhD in Anthropology from the University of Chicago. She is the recipient of an array of fellowships and grants, including from the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the Mellon Foundation. In 2018, she received the Michael L. Walzer ’56 Award for Excellence in Teaching from Brandeis University, and in 2019 she was named Hooker Distinguished Visiting Professor at McMaster University in Canada.
In her free time, Hannig enjoys picking fruit and making jam. She loves trail running, rock climbing, and skiing in the great outdoors, pursuits that sporadically bring her in touch with her own mortality.