Professor of Religion
South Asian Studies
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Much of my research concerns the ways in which seeing and what is seen in South Asia function as part of social history, affective relations, and material culture. This interest is apparent in my research on early Indian Buddhism, South Asian media, and the economies of the North Indian bazaar.
My recent publications include Thus Have I Seen: Visualizing Faith in Early Indian Buddhism (2009), which considers the construction of faith as a visual practice in Buddhism, and how seeing and faith function as part of intersecting visual and moral systems. I also released Divine Stories: Translations from the Divyāvadāna, part 1 (2008), the first half of a two-part translation of one of the most important collections of ancient Buddhist narratives. This volume inaugurated a new translation series from Wisdom Publications called Classics of Indian Buddhism.
My current research focuses on four book projects: (1) Divine Stories: Translations from the Divyāvadāna, part 2 (Wisdom Publications, forthcoming); (2) Amar Akbar Anthony: Family, Faith, and Nation Once Upon a Time in Bollywood, co-written with Christian Novetzke and William Elison (Harvard University Press); (3) Bazaar Religion: Marketing and Moral Economics in Modern India (Harvard University Press); and (4) Saving the World through Commerce? Buddhists, Merchants, and Mercantilism in Early India.
The courses I teach concern South Asian religion broadly construed, both premodern and modern. Though I believe that religious studies offers an important heuristic for penetrating the complexities of many social phenomena, I like to teach materials from a variety of disciplines as a way of triangulating issues. I was trained to examine problems as a scholar of religion, as well as a linguist, anthropologist, and cultural historian, and I now train my students to do the same. I also like to use non-traditional media in the classroom, such as chromolithographs, advertisements, video archives, and devotional recordings, for these offer insight into under-represented aspects of South Asian religious life, contextualize traditional materials, and animate discussions.
Select Articles and Presentations
"Buddhism and Hospitality: Expecting the Unexpected and Acting Virtuously." In Richard Kearney and James Taylor, eds. Housing the Stranger: Between Religions, pp. 115-122. New York: Continuum, 2011.
"Baba's Got a Brand New Bag: Indian Jute Bags and Exotic Others." In Aaron Sinfit, ed. 5 Year Plan: Literary Supplement, pp. 31–55. Jaipur: Krishna Printers, 2010.
"Liberation through Images: Seeing the Buddha in Indian Art and Architecture." Lecture at Boston College, in conjunction with Asian Journeys: Collecting Art in Post-War America, an exhibit at the McMullen Museum of Art, April 2010.
"Marketing Morality: The Economy of Faith in Early Indian Buddhism." In Shripad G. Bhat, Shilpa Sumant, and Ambarish Vasant Khare, eds. Srīnidhih: Professor Shrikant Shankar Bahulkar's Gratitude Volume, pp. 253–290. Pune: Samvidya Institute of Cultural Studies, 2009.
"The Power of Proximity: Creating and Venerating Shrines in Indian Buddhist Narratives." In Jason Hawkes and Akira Shimada, eds. Buddhist Stūpas in South Asia: Recent Archaeological, Art-Historical, and Historical Perspectives, pp. 51-62. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009.
"White African Masks: Representing Africa in a Johannesburg Hotel." Co-written with April Strickland. Material World, October 2007.
"The Erotics of Practice: Objects and Agency in Buddhist Avadana Literature." Journal of the American Academy of Religion 71.3 (2003): 555–578.
"The Midnight Buffet." Co-written with Elizabeth Pérez. Public Culture 13.2 (2001): 329–332.
"Rotman Collection of Stereographs of India." Contains ninety-nine 19th century sterographic photographs available online in both two-dimensional and three-dimensional form.
See too "Tales of the Third Dimension: Bringing 19th Century India into Wondrous Focus." Smith College: Insight, April 15, 2013.