About Professor Lemelson

Robert B. Lemelson is an adjunct professor of anthropology in the Division of Social Sciences and a research anthropologist at the Semel Institute of Neuroscience at UCLA. His areas of specialty are Southeast Asian studies, psychological anthropology and transcultural psychiatry, and he is additionally trained as a clinical psychologist. He was a Fulbright scholar in Indonesia in 1996-1997, received his master’s degree from the University of Chicago, and earned his doctorate from UCLA.

As founder and president of the Foundation for Psychocultural Research (FPR), Professor Lemelson has spearheaded a wide array of philanthropic efforts at UCLA, and the Foundation’s list of board members reads like a Who’s Who of distinguished UCLA faculty. He established the FPR-UCLA Center for Culture, Brain, and Development (CBD), which fosters training and research on how culture and social relations inform brain development, how the brain organizes cultural and social development, and how development gives rise to a cultural brain. Funding of the CBD was recently expanded to include a new program for Culture, Brain, Development, and Mental Health, under the direction of Professors Douglas Hollan of UCLA and Steven R. Lopez of USC. Its primary goal is to establish a strong program in cultural psychiatry, with an emphasis on integrating neuroscience and social science perspectives through focused field-based domestic and international research projects conducted by interdisciplinary multinational teams.


In 2008 Robert Lemelson established the Lemelson Indonesian Studies Program at UCLA, and he has also generously supported the psychology department, the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, and the Institute for Social Science Research. In addition, Dr. Lemelson is co-vice president and secretary of The Lemelson Foundation, a family foundation dedicated to improving lives through invention, and founder and head of Elemental Productions, a documentary film production company.

Having conducted ethnographic research since 1993, Professor Lemelson has focused his work on personal experience, culture, and mental illness in Indonesia and in the United States, and he has published articles in numerous journals and book chapters. His path-breaking edited volume, Understanding Trauma- Integrating Biological, Clinical and Cultural Approaches, was published by Cambridge Press in 2007.

In 2008 Professor Lemelson released 40 Years of Silence, a documentary about the 1965 mass killings in Indonesia. His 2010 film series, Afflictions: Culture and Mental Illness in Indonesia, was nominated for the Best Limited Series by the International Documentary Association (IDA) annual award. The three-part series, shot over the course of 12 years in Bali and Java, is a result of longitudinal ethnographic fieldwork exploring the relationship between culture, mental illness, and experience. Jathilan, his film on trance and possession, was released in 2011. He is currently in production on a film series on gender, violence and polygamy in Indonesia.