Cortney L. Hughes Rinker

Cortney L. Hughes Rinker

Cortney L. Hughes Rinker



Medical anthropology, aging and end-of-life care, pain management, reproductive health, Islam, technology, gender, Middle East and North Africa, the United States

Cortney Hughes Rinker is Professor of Global Affairs and serves as the program's Director. She earned her Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of California, Irvine with emphases in Feminist Studies and Medicine, Science, and Technology Studies. Her teaching and research interests are in medical anthropology, Islam, aging and end-of-life care, public policy, reproduction, Middle East Studies, development, science and technology, and applied anthropology. She conducted long-term research (2005-2009) on reproductive healthcare among working-class women in Rabat, Morocco, which turned into her book Islam, Development, and Urban Women’s Reproductive Practices (Routledge, 2013). This research focused on the ways the country’s new development policies impact how childbearing and childrearing practices are promoted to women and how women incorporate these practices into their ideas of citizenship. AnthroWorks, a popular academic blog, selected her dissertation on this subject as one of the Top 40 North American Dissertations in Cultural Anthropology for 2010. Before joining George Mason, Cortney was a postdoctoral fellow at the Arlington Innovation Center for Health Research at Virginia Tech where she worked in conjunction with a healthcare organization in southwest Virginia developing projects to improve end-of-life care and psychiatric services in a rural Appalachian town. 

Her second book Actively Dying: The Creation of Muslim Identities through End-of-Life Care in the United States (Routledge, 2021) examines the diverse experiences of Muslim patients and families in the Washington, D.C. area as they interact with the health care system during serious illness and end-of-life care. Cortney analyzes faith and religious beliefs within the broader context of health economics, politics, social forces, and health care policy. In the book, she uses “actively dying” as a theoretical concept to frame the dying body as a main site through which religiosity and religious identities are formed, changed, or contested. Instead of starting from the premise that identities and beliefs are created when living she uses the deteriorating and even dead body as the basis to explore religious beliefs and identities.

Cortney’s current long-term ethnographic project, supported by the American Institute for Maghrib Studies and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Mason, focuses on palliative care and pain management during serious illness and end-of-life care in Morocco. Through ethnographic research she explores how physical pain and suffering intersect with beliefs about mortality and sin as well as a sense of self and personhood. A core component of the research is analyzing the use of pain medication (particularly opioids) within the political and economic contexts of Morocco and investigating the politicization of palliative care in the country. She examines how the state and bureaucracy impact the ways people suffer an experience illness and death.

Cortney has published articles in peer-reviewed journals, including Medical Anthropology Quarterly, Arab Studies Journal, Medical AnthropologyInterdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, Hespéris-Tamuda, Southern Anthropologist, and Journal of Telemedicine and e-Health. Chapters appear in the edited volume Anthropology of the Middle East and North Africa: Into the New Millennium (Indiana University Press, 2013), Treating the Person in Medicine and Religion: Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Perspectives (Routledge, 2019),  Anthropological Perspectives on Aging (University Press of Florida, 2023), and Handbook on Women in the Middle East (Routledge, 2023). She also published in the Inaugural Virginia Humanities Conference Proceedings (2018). She has been a guest on WVTF Roanoke to discuss end-of-life care and also co-edited (with Sheena Nahm) and contributed to Applied Anthropology: Unexpected Spaces, Topics, and Methods (Routledge, 2016). Cortney is the former Editor-in-Chief of Anthropology & Aging, the official publication of the Association for Association for Anthropology, Gerontology and the Life Course (AAGE), and currently serves on its editorial board.

Cortney developed an online open access textbook for introductory courses in Cultural Anthropology funded by a Virtual Library of Virginia Course Redesign Grant (with Andrew Lee and Andrew Kierig from Mason Libraries, Sarah Raskin from VCU, and Sheena Nahm McKinlay from Health Leads of California). She regularly teaches GLOA 101: Introduction to Global Affairs. Cortney is the faculty leader of the Diplomacy Lab at George Mason, a partnership with the U.S. Department of State that enables the State Department to "'course-source' research and innovation related to foreign policy by harnessing the efforts of students and faculty at universities across the country." Cortney has taught undergraduate and graduate seminars in anthropological theory and specialized courses on medical anthropology, policy and culture, globalization, religion, ethnographic methods and research design, and the Middle East and North Africa. 

Click here for a short video on Cortney's research and teaching.

Selected Publications

Actively Dying: The Creation of Muslim Identities through End-of-Life Care in the United States. London: Routledge, 2021.

“Problematizing Neoliberalism and Development: Creating Citizens (and Future Citizens) through Reproduction and Childrearing in Morocco,” Hespéris-Tamuda, guest edited by Rahma Bourqia and Aomar Boum. 55(4): 151-172, 2020.

COVID-19 and the Kin Contract: Navigating the Family and the State During the Pandemic.” Anthropology & Aging 41(2), 141-146. Co-authored with M. Aspen Bataille and Loumarie Figueroa Ortiz.

“Islam, Medicine, and Practice: The Manifestation of Islamic Moral Values in Everyday Aspects of the U.S. Health Care System.” In Treating the Body in Medicine and Religion: Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Perspectives, edited by John Fitzgerald and Ashley Moyse, 137-153. New York: Routledge, 2019. 

"Religious Apps for Smartphones and Tablets: Reconstructing Authority, Community, and the Nature of Religion," Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, 12:1-14, 2016. Co-authored with Jesse Roof, Emily Harvey, Elyse Bailey, and Hannah Embler.

Islam, Development, and Urban Women’s Reproductive Practices. New York: Routledge, 2013.

"A Place to Belong: Colonial Pasts, Modern Discourses, and Contraceptive Practices in Morocco." In Anthropology of the Middle East and North Africa: Into the New Millennium, edited by Sherine Hafez and Susan Slyomovics, 239-257. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013.

"Responsible Mothers, Anxious Women: Contraception, Modernization, and Neoliberalism in Morocco." Arab Studies Journal 21(1): 97-121, 2013. 

"Stress, Survival, and Success in Academia 2.0: Lessons from Working Inside and Outside of the Academy." Practicing Anthropology 35(1): 40-43, 2013. Co-authored with Sheena Nahm. 

"Technologies in the Patient Centered Medical Home: Examining the Model from an Enterprise Perspective." Journal of Telemedicine and e-Health 17(6): 1-6, 2011. Co-authored with CAPT R. Marshall, E. Murphy, and SK Mun.