I am an ethnographer of religion in South Asia, with a focus on the intersection of Hinduism, health, media, and the environment.
My research explores how large-scale religious institutions intervene in consumer culture in order to provide solutions to modern societal problems.
Presented “‘Mathura is next’: Nationalist Projections in Local Perspective” at the American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting on November 9, 2022.
Published “‘Sankalp se Siddhi’: The Brahma Kumaris and Pandemic Positivity.” CoronAsur: Religion & COVID-19 (blog). April 5, 2022.
My dissertation project is entitled “Everyday Eschatology: Centering and Healing in Two Hindu Sects.” It is an ethnographic analysis of how members of the Brahma Kumaris and the Gayatri Pariwar attempt to re-center religion in everyday life as a means of fulfilling the world-building charters of their parent organizations.
The Brahma Kumaris and the Gayatri Pariwar are two Hindu sects that have gained international traction since their beginnings in the 1930s. Both organizations envision and prepare for an imminent transition into a new Golden Age through self-care regimens that imbue Hindu ascetic practices and rituals with the authority of modern rational science. Rather than retreat from society, these groups continue to engage their surrounding communities in attempts to act as custodians of societal welfare. Through ethnographic accounts of these institutions’ activities in the Hindi belt of North India, I argue for renewed attention to the non-temple spaces where members of international religious organizations respond to a world understood to be on the brink of collapse.
Decades have passed since the deaths of their charismatic founders, so the Brahma Kumaris and the Gayatri Pariwar are no longer “new” religious movements. Despite their grand millenarian projects, members live their everyday lives according to relatively mundane ritual practices and social service initiatives. This ordinariness is not dissonant or detrimental to their eschatological programs; rather, it is the very condition for the wide appeal of both groups within contemporary Indian society. In particular, the educational and ritual offerings of both organizations, made widely accessible through a range of multimedia and material goods, afford people ready opportunities to integrate group teachings and practices into their lifestyles. To assess just how the “ordinary” serves as a vehicle for the “extraordinary” within the Gayatri Pariwar and the Brahma Kumaris is the task of “Everyday Eschatology.”
During the course of my dissertation fieldwork, I began to reflect on how I and my research subjects were inhabiting a city and country much larger than we are. This led me to build a series of maps anchored to several fieldwork experiences, initially as a note-taking aid.
Although these maps are a work in progress, I invite you to explore several of the places where I conducted fieldwork in 2019-2020.More...
Two ongoing interests of mine are the history of religious reform in India and digital humanities scholarship. This project has been an attempt to combine the two. What follows is a chronicle of Protap Chunder Mozoomdar, a nineteenth-century Bengali religious reformer and one of the first Indians to command an audience in the United States of America. In July 1893, he set sail to take part in the World’s Parliament of Religions. This digital exhibit, based on the letters that Mozoomdar wrote to his wife Saudamini during his travels at sea, offers a seldom-possible intimate look at the life and times of an underappreciated historical religious figure.More...
I teach in the Department of Asian Studies at Hamilton College.
Gurus, Godmen, Godwomen
What leads people to place unwavering faith in others? What are the ramifications of relationships between everyday people and those they revere as semi-divine? This course explores issues of faith and charisma within weekly case studies of Indian gurus, popularly referred to as “godmen” or “godwomen.” We will investigate how such figures gain, use, and sometimes lose popularity and power. The primary context of this course is Hindu India, but we will also consider notable examples of gurus who have gained appeal in the US. The final six weeks of the course will involve an intensive collaborative archival project in conjunction with Hamilton College’s Special Collections and LITS.
Hinduism and Healing
How do Hindus understand and pursue health? To what extent do historical, regional, class-based, gender-based, age-based, and other differences impact the stakes, objects, and methods of healing? How can healing help us understand what it means to be or become Hindu? We will investigate these idiosyncrasies and overlaps by considering various instruments of healing. We will examine five such instruments in this course, without any presumption that these are the only five: healing with medicine, with persona, with place, with bodies, and with posture. Due to the timeliness of the topic, the sixth unit departs from the “instrument” model and instead considers Hindu responses to COVID-19.
Mother Nature--Climate Crisis--Hinduism
Is religion good or bad for the natural world? How do we conceptualize ecosystems, environments, and the relationship of humans to other forms of life? How do the attitudes and practices that emerge from such ideas protect or imperil the physical environments in which we live? Using Hindu contexts as case studies, we will consider the relationship between religion and the environment. No prior coursework on Hinduism is required. The course generally progresses in two-week pairs. During the first week of each pair, we will consider how Hindus ascribe divinity to various facets of the natural world. During the second week of each pair, we will evaluate religious responses to ecological disasters that threaten the inviolability of the environment as sacred space.
Past Courses / Courses Taught Elsewhere:
Religions of India (NYU)
This course is an investigation of religious developments in India within a historical context. Students will familiarize themselves with the religions of the subcontinent—including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, Sikhism, Christianity, and Judaism—through secondary source readings and English translations of primary source materials. Rather than survey religious traditions as closed systems divorced from time or place, students will grapple with the central theories and historiographical challenges pertaining to religion in India, especially those that impact our ability to understand everyday religious experience, past and present.
Indian Buddhism (Hamilton College)
This course is an introduction to the origins, essential beliefs, popular practices, and institutions of Buddhism. Students examine the life of Buddha, his teachings (Dharma) and Buddhist communities through a range of Buddhist texts, art, and archaeological sources.
Sacred Space in South Asia (Hamilton College)
Students in this course examine the complex relationship between space, society, and religious identity in South Asia, past and present. The course will draw upon Buddhist, Hindu, and Islamic materials to analyze the ways in which the idea of ‘sacred space’ has been used in political, social, and legal contexts for decidedly secular objectives.
February 6, 2023
New York University
Foundational Track Completion
Competitive Scholarships and Honors
- “‘Mathura is next’: Nationalist Projections in Local Perspective,” in “Jurisprudence and Geography of Hindu Majoritarianism in the Post-2019 Ayodhya Verdict,” ed. Knut A. Jacobsen and Vera Lazzaretti, special issue, Contemporary South Asia (under review).
- “‘Sankalp se Siddhi’: The Brahma Kumaris and Pandemic Positivity.” CoronAsur: Religion & COVID-19 (blog). April 5, 2022. https://ari.nus.edu.sg/20331-107/
- “COVID-19 First Responders: The Gayatri Pariwar and the Immune Ritual Body.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 89, no.3 (Sept. 2021): 1006-1038. https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jaarel/lfab057
- “Metabolic Living: Food, Fat, and the Absorption of Illness in India by Harris Solomon (Review).” Global Public Health 11, no.2 (2018): 318-19. https://doi.org/10.1080/17441692.2018.1511742
Conferences and Invited Talks
- “‘Mathura is next’: Nationalist Projections in Local Perspective,” American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, November 9, 2022.
- Panel Organizer, “Natives, Foreigners, and Imagined Others in South Asian Religious Homelands,” American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, November 9, 2022.
- “COVID-19 First Responders: The Gayatri Pariwar and the Immune Ritual Body,” Hinduism Unit and Religion in South Asia Unit, American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, November 20, 2021 (online).
- “Om Shanti Emojis: Three Facets of Digital Hinduism,” Anthropology of Religion Unit and Religion, Media, and Culture Unit, American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, December 5, 2020 (online).
- Invited Speaker, “Energy and Vibrations: The Logic of Transformation in the Gayatri Pariwar and the Brahma Kumaris,” Public Health Workshop, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India, March 12, 2020.
- “Marketing Religion: From Mathura to Madhuvan,” South and Central Asia Fulbright Conference, Kochi, India, February 24, 2020.
- “Zooming in on Mozoomdar: A Microhistory of Brahmo Belief,” Religion in South Asia Section, American Academy of Religion, Denver, November 18, 2018.
- Panel Discussant, “Yoga and Politics: South Asia and Beyond,” Annual Conference on South Asia, Madison, October 12, 2018.
- “The Creation of a Mahatma: Creative License in Ratnadeep Pictures’ Tulsidas (1954),” Annual Conference on South Asia, Madison, October 23, 2015.
At Hamilton College
At New York University
Teacher-Scholar Enrichment Working Group (AHA! Group)
Center for Teaching and Learning
Laidlaw Scholarship Program