Tawni Tidwell


  • MA, Anthropology, Emory University
  • BS, Earth Systems, Stanford University


Tawni Tidwell is completing her Ph.D. in Anthropology and Tibetan Medical Doctor (T.M.D.) degree in Tibetan Medicine. 

Her work focuses on biocultural conceptualizations and systems of knowledge regarding the human body, health and illness, and their relations and affects within environmental and social systems.  She looks at methods of transmission of knowledge, particularly sensory training and performative memory, and their integration into practice within Tibetan medicine.

From May 2012 to January 2015, with the generous support of the National Science Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation, she has been able to conduct comparative research on “Learning Processes and Sensory Training in Tibetan Medical Diagnostics: Targeting Ma-Zhu-Wa & Dre-ney, Metabolic Disorders and Cancer, in Tibetan Medicine” at Men-Tsee-Khang Tibetan Medical Institute in northern India and Tibetan Medical College at Qinghai University in the Amdo region of Tibet and Qinghai Province of China.  Ma-Zhu-Wa, or metabolic disorders, generate a wide-range of conditions including cancer for which Tibetan medical diagnostics is particularly adept at illuminating.  Her research looks at how Tibetan medical students, interns and young doctors up through the Tibetan medical experts train the embodied diagnostics to identify such conditions and the respective prognoses.  She has had the fortune to conduct her work as simultaneous Tibetan medical student cum researcher, a truly in-depth form of participant-observation.

Tidwell uses Buddhist psychological and neuroscience underpinnings on roots of and affects on illness, and the procurement and transmission of embodied knowledge. She works both in the clinical applications and theoretical frameworks for Tibetan medicine, studying how a given influential pattern of the multi-causal matrix of mental, physical, social, environmental and cultural factors are identified for a patient and give rise to a given diagnosis that directs the trajectory of illness, health and healing.   The importance of training in the materia medica — the medicinal plants, stones, gems and so forth — are a key element in her work in understanding diagnostic learning in Tibetan medicine.  Tidwell’s experience in Peruvian and Bolivian traditional medical systems of the Q’eros Nacion, Machiguenga tribe and Huayripayri community has also significantly influenced her approach to the myriad of issues in individual-society-environment health narratives and knowledge-praxis transmission issues.

Research keywords: biocultural anthropology, medical anthropology, human biology, embodied knowledge, cultural knowledge transmission, praxis knowledge