Sherine F. Hamdy, PhD, the Kutayba Alghanim Assistant Professor of the Social Sciences and Anthropology at Brown University, will conduct a project entitled Recalibrating Life and Marriage: a study of consanguineous (cousin) marriage and genetic risk in three comparative sites.
First-cousin marriage is the preferred marriage pattern among one-fifth of the human population. Some societies believe that such marriages provide more stability, strengthen family bonds, and protect against abuse and neglect of women. However, first-cousin marriage is associated with an increased risk of serious genetic diseases in offspring, although this risk may be lower than predicted. Professor Hamdy will analyze how different communities and individuals balance traditional cultural beliefs that encourage first-cousin marriage with scientific evidence that such marriages pose significant genetic risks, and how this balance may be changing over time. Professor Hamdy will also address broader questions of how people deal with complex medical information and how their responses to physicians’ recommendations are shaped by cultural and religious beliefs. For example, how do patients interpret “risk” and “benefit” and determine what level of risk is acceptable? Her research will have implications for the U.S. whose population is increasingly diverse and where recommended standards of practice are being contested.