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.
Presenting “‘Mathura is next’: Nationalist Projections in Local Perspective” at the American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting on November 9, 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 currently teach in the Department of Asian Studies at 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
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.
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.
September 26, 2022
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 (in preparation).
- “‘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.
- 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.
- 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
Center for Teaching and Learning
Laidlaw Scholarship Program