about

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.

research

news

Published “The View from Mathura: Nationalist Projections in Local Perspective,” Contemporary South Asia 32 (1): 84-100.

Received the 2023 Teddy Amoloza Conference Travel Award (ASIANetwork).

Received the 2023 Hamilton College Special Collections Faculty Fellowship.

projects

Everyday Eschatology

#NewReligiousMovements#Ritual#MaterialCulture#COVID19#Ethnography

My ongoing book 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.”

Maps

#DigHum#Maps#Mathura#GayatriPariwar#BrahmaKumaris

During the course of my doctoral 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.

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Mozoomdar at Sea

#DigHum#Maps#ParliamentOfReligions#BrahmoSamaj

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.

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teaching

I teach in the Department of Religious Studies at Hamilton College.

Current Courses:

Past Courses / Courses Taught Elsewhere:

c.v.

Religious Studies Department Hamilton College 198 College Hill Road Clinton, NY 13323
7077 College Hill Road Clinton, NY 13323 +1 (815) 298 4294 jtackes@hamilton.edu

Employment

2023—
Visiting Assistant Professor
Religious Studies
Hamilton College
2022-2023
Visiting Assistant Professor
Asian Studies
Hamilton College
2022
Adjunct Professor
Religious Studies
New York University

Education

2022
PhD
Religion
Columbia University
Dissertation:
“Everyday Eschatology: Centering and Healing in Two Hindu Sects”
2016
MA
Religion
Columbia University
2013
BA
Religion, Great Ideas
Carthage College

Certificates

2021
Center for Teaching and Learning
Foundational Track Completion
Columbia University
2020
South Asia Institute
Advanced Certificate
Columbia University

Other Training

2023
Early Career Researcher Workshop
International Network for the Study of Science and Belief in Society

Languages

English (native)
Hindi (fluent)

Competitive Scholarships and Honors

2023
Teddy Amoloza Conference Travel Award (ASIANetwork)
2023
Hamilton College Special Collections Faculty Fellowship
2022
Hindu Temple of Antelope Valley Jagadish Fellowship
2021
Columbia University IRCPL Dissertation Fellowship
2018
AIIS Junior Research Fellowship (declined)
2018
Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Award
2017
Summer FLAS Fellowship (Hindi)
2017
AIIS Language Fellowship (Hindi)
2016
Summer FLAS Fellowship (Hindi)
2015
Academic Year FLAS Fellowship (Hindi)
2014
Academic Year FLAS Fellowship (Hindi)
2013
Fulbright-Nehru Fellowship (Teaching)
2011
ASIANetwork Freeman Fellowship

Publications

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.

Professional Memberships

American Academy of Religion
American Anthropological Association
ASIANetwork
International Exchange Alumni

Teaching

At Hamilton College

Encountering Hinduism
Gurus, Godmen, Godwomen
Hinduism and Healing
Indian Buddhism
Mother Nature—Climate Crisis
Religion and Healing in Global Perspective
Sacred Space in South Asia

At New York University

Religions of India

Academic Service

2022
Participant
South Asian Studies Working Group
Hamilton College
2022
Principal Investigator
Teacher-Scholar Enrichment Working Group (AHA! Group)
Hamilton College
2020
Lead Teaching Fellow
Center for Teaching and Learning
Columbia University
2018
Graduate Mentor
Laidlaw Scholarship Program
Columbia University

External Reviewer

Oxford Bibliographies
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada