Anna I. Corwin completed her PhD in anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles specializing in the fields of linguistic and medical anthropology. She is currently a Thinking Matters Fellow teaching at Stanford University. Anna’s research examines the intersections between aging, embodiment, well being, social interaction, and language.
Anna’s dissertation, entitled Prayer and Care: How Elderly Nuns Sustain Well-Being sought to understand why some individuals age more “successfully” than others, setting them apart from the majority of their contemporaries. Epidemiologists have identified American Catholic nuns as a group that lives longer, healthier, and more actively, experiencing less anxiety, pain, and depression than their lay counterparts. While contributing factors such as education, nutrition, physical activity, optimistic outlook, and spiritual and social support have been identified through surveys and medical examinations, Anna’s dissertation is the first to document the everyday, on-the-ground social and sacred communicative practices that contribute to the quality of life these elderly nuns report.
Anna’s dissertation research was based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork in a Midwestern Catholic convent where the elderly nuns report above-average quality of life. The dissertation identifies how a suite of socio-communicative practices contribute to the nuns’ well-being, including how their prayers are composed to garner assistance for peers in distress and how care provided by the elderly nuns offers a sense of purpose to both the caregiver and recipient of care. By providing micro-level analysis of the daily activities that contribute to the nuns’ documented pattern of successful aging, the dissertation contributes new insights to a growing literature on successful aging in the fields of anthropology, gerontology, public health, and end-of-life care.