The Society for Humanistic Anthropology (SHA) was first discussed at the 1974 meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Mexico City to open a dialogue on the means by which anthropologists might effectively evoke, represent, or give account of the human subject both visually and in writing. In 1975, a new scholarly society was born.

Humanistic anthropology involves the recognition that professional inquiry takes place in a context of human value. The humanistic orientation is particularly concerned with the personal, ethical, and political choices facing humans. The Society sponsors the journal Anthropology and Humanism, which publishes peer-reviewed articles, essays, creative ethnographic prose, poetry, and photographs twice a year.

Humanism has historically made the human endeavor the subject of its concerns. Humanistic anthropology seeks to bring the intellectual resources of the discipline to bear upon this subject. While not blind to the constraints within which we humans operate, humanistic anthropology, in the tradition of the discipline, celebrates that human reality is something upon which we creative primates have real feedback effects: we can change our social and natural environment. Accordingly, it recognizes that anthropological inquiry constitutes a part of that work, particularly in promoting multicultural understanding and revealing the social blockages that are deleterious to our social and physical environment.

The Society gives annual awards in writing: The Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing for recently published books, an ethnographic fiction and creative nonfiction competition for short creative prose, a poetry contest, and (new in 2020) The Edie Turner First-Book Prize in Ethnographic Writing.