Ph.D. in Anthropology

The Anthropology of Public Life

As the world grows simultaneously more interconnected and also more fractious, the anthropological emphasis on the comparative understanding of human cultures becomes increasingly relevant in scholarly, government, policy, and even corporate contexts. The GW Ph.D. program therefore seeks to train students with research interests in "public life." By this we do not mean "applied anthropology." Rather, we mean theoretically engaged ethnographic research with respect to three things:

  1. Public policy, both in the centers of power that in some cases are located within blocks of GW, and in the diverse range of places where these policies get worked out and put into practice.
  2. The complex work of governance at global, national, and local scales.
  3. Material culture as indexed by museums and cultural revitalization efforts (including heritage).


The program is currently accepting students with specializations in sociocultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and archaeology. Those with interests in biological anthropology are encouraged to investigate our sister Ph.D. program in Human Paleobiology.

Prospective applicants should look at faculty bios and identify professors they would be interested in working with. Faculty who are available to advise Ph.D. students in Anthropology include: Ahmad, Blomster, Dent, Feldman, Grinker, Gusterson, LubkemannKuipersMiller, and Wagner.

Though there are many variables that go into admission, and our program is highly competitive, the most important aspect of your application is your statement of purpose, which is included along with your recommendations, GRE scores, and application form. This statement should convey your scholarly interests and intellectual questions in about two single spaced pages. We recognize that your interests may change as you go through the program, but the more specific you can be about the literatures you are engaged with and the project you hope to pursue, the better placed we are to evaluate your fit for our program.

Applications will be accepted for the 2017-18 academic year through January 5, 2017. Please get in touch with the Ph.D. program director, Ilana Feldman ( with any questions about the program, particularly once you have begun to hone your project statement.

Admission materials can be sent to:

Columbian College of Arts & Sciences
Office of Graduate Admissions
The George Washington University
Phillips Hall, Room 107
801 22nd Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20052

Phone: 202-994-6210
Fax: 202-994-6213

For more information on the admissions process, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page. Procedural questions about test score reporting, the receipt of letters of recommendation, etc., should be addressed to the college office..

Degree Requirements

The degree requires 72 total credit hours, including at least 12 and at most 24 hours of Dissertation Research (Anth 8999). 48 of the 72 credits must be taken in the pre-candidacy stage (before completing the General Examination).

Phase One

  • Three core proseminars (Anth 6101-6104).
  • A research methods seminar.
  • A professional skills and ethics seminar.
  • Elective course work.
  • All students are required to demonstrate proficiency in one foreign language; the student's graduate committee reserves the right to require an additional language if needed for fieldwork or archival research.
  • A 3-credit internship in anthropology and public life at a Washington, DC area institution — such as congressional offices, public radio and television, or the Smithsonian Institution — responsible for communicating anthropological knowledge to diverse audiences (recommended).

Phase Two

  • Prepare a research proposal that meets funding agency guidelines.
  • Take a written General Examination in at least three major areas of concentration (e.g., a general field in anthropological theory, a geographic area, and a thematically defined field).
  • Following successful completion of the General Examination, there will be an oral defense of the student's research proposal. Students who pass will advance to candidacy for the Ph.D.
  • Candidates must complete a dissertation that demonstrates their ability to do original research. Since Ph.D. candidates work closely with a small number of faculty, applicants should consult our faculty list in order to identify appropriate mentors or advisers.


The range of issues faculty are prepared to guide students in exploring include, but are not limited to: conflict and post-conflict societies, displacement and humanitarianism, intellectual property and piracy, transnational feminism, military cultures, piety and authoritative discourse, psychological anthropology, and social inequality.

The curriculum is flexible, and develops intellectual creativity, effective communication skills, ethnographic methods, and rigorous scholarship. Our training prepares students for careers not only in the academy, but in a variety of jobs requiring detailed comparative understanding of culture, and ethnographic methodologies. The program emphasizes close relationships between faculty and students. Students will benefit greatly from GW's long-standing partnership with the Smithsonian Institution and access to Washington, DC's archival collections and policy-making institutions. Students may also avail themselves of the department’s strengths in a variety of approaches to the discipline of anthropology.

All students admitted into the program receive a fellowship that provides tuition, stipend, and teaching assistant salary. Students are expected to apply for external funding to support dissertation research and writing. At least one student may be partially supported through funding from the GW Institute for Ethnographic Research while working as an assistant editor for the journal Anthropological Quarterly.

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Minglish: The Language of Urban Maharashtra

Mixed Marathi and English signs

Anthropology Ph.D. student Jessica Chandras went to Maharashtra, India, to study “Minglish,” a language featuring a systematic use of English words among Marathi words. She presented her findings at the 2013 American Anthropological Association meetings.