Sarah Strauss was born and raised on the east coast. During high school and college, she was deeply involved in biomedical research, and expected her career path to lie in this direction. She enjoyed the philosophical traditions, though, and so although she worked in molecular biology laboratories, she also majored in comparative religion. During her final year in college, she discovered medical anthropology, and that changed everything. A career in anthropology would allow her to pursue all of her research interests, from health and human biology to myth and religion. After graduating, she moved to the west coast, and worked as a marketing director for a small software company in Silicon Valley.
Strauss first obtained a Master's degree in Public Health, to learn more about health-related aspects of human interaction with the environment, and later a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology. Her dissertation focused on aspects of culture change through transnational flows of ideas, products, and practices related to yoga in India and around the world. One of Dr. Strauss's ongoing research goals is to understand how different cultures define what it means to be healthy and to live a "good life." After moving to Laramie to start work at the University of Wyoming in 1995, Strauss's research branched out from herbal medicine use in Laramie to an NSF-funded study of the "social life of water" in the Swiss Alpine village of Leukerbad. The water project, which began with a focus on the qualities of water resources in relation to their use-value to the community for medicinal, recreational, and other economic purposes, quickly developed a component addressing climate change impacts on water resources, as this became an inescapable part of the research landscape by the early years of the 21st century. In 2003 and 2004, her first two books, an edited volume with Ben Orlove on Weather, Climate, Culture—the first extended anthropological treatment of this topic—and a monograph from the dissertation, Positioning Yoga, were published.
Since her first sabbatical in 2005-6, Strauss has further developed her focus on climate change and sustainability issues, expanding her study of perception and behavior related to understandings of environmental hazards and risks. This "new" direction ties back into her original interests in health and the experiences of the "good life" in a variety of ways, including how we produce, manage, and consume food, energy, and water resources. In 2012-13, Strauss was in India on a Fulbright fellowship, this time looking at climate change and renewable energy transitions; also in 2013, her most recent book, Cultures of Energy (with Stephanie Rupp and Thomas Love) was published, and in 2014, the co-authored report of the American Anthropological Association’s Task Force on Global Climate Change, Changing the Atmosphere, providing insights into anthropological understandings of and future research directions for an anthropology of climate change.
More recent projects include participation in the Bioenergy Alliance Network of the Rockies (BANR), an interdisciplinary USDA-funded AFRI-CAP project exploring the bark-beetle epidemic in Rocky Mountain forests in relation to climate change and possible uses of and market for the massive amounts of dead wood as a renewable biomass energy or soil remediation resource. With eight institutions across four states, the BANR project was a massive undertaking that has yielded a wealth of information about western forest management and industry uses, as well as about the relationship between these activities and wildfires.
In addition, during 2016-17, Strauss was an interdisciplinary fellow in environmental humanities at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, in Munich, Germany, where she began work on her current book, tentatively titled The Yoga of Change: Tales of Climate, Energy, and Culture, exploring ways to change the narratives of climate change and energy transitions toward more positive action. After a stint as the acting director of the Wyoming Institute for Humanities Research, where she had the chance to develop some of the ideas that percolated at the Carson Center, Strauss moved back to Massachusetts in 2019 to join the Global School at WPI. She has just begun a new project on climate change and the built environment with colleagues in civil engineering, business, and political science, and is working to develop academic degree programs on climate change.
Strauss enjoys riding horses (trail riding, dressage, and eventing); playing and listening to Celtic music; hiking and skiing; and just hanging out with her husband and research collaborator (Carrick), kids (Rory, 25, and Lia, 20), border collie Ozzie, and Frodo the parrot.
NBC10 interviewed Sarah Strauss, professor, integrative and global studies, for its report on WPI’s new master of science program in Community Climate Adaptation. “We wanted to use the existing infrastructure and extend it to the master’s level to create an interdisciplinary with the specific goal of helping communities adapt to the impacts of climate change,” Strauss said
Sarah Strauss, professor of integrative and global studies, and Jeanine Dudle, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, discuss the university’s new graduate program in Community Climate Adaptation. “We wanted to use our existing infrastructure and extend this at the master’s level to create an interdisciplinary program with a specific goal of helping communities adapt to the impacts of climate change,” Strauss said.