Professor of Religion
South Asian Studies
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For the last twenty-five years, from my time as an undergraduate at Columbia University and a graduate student at the University of Chicago through my years as a research scholar in South Asia and now as a professor at Smith College, I have engaged in textual and ethnographic work on the role of narratives, images, and markets in South Asia and the religious, social, and political functions that they serve. This focus is apparent in my research on early Indian Buddhism, South Asian media, and the modern economies of the North Indian bazaar.
My recent publications include Amar Akbar Anthony: Bollywood, Brotherhood, and the Nation (Harvard University Press, 2015), co-written with William Elison and Christian Novetzke, which offers a multi-perspectival exegesis of one of India’s most popular films; Thus Have I Seen: Visualizing Faith in Early Indian Buddhism (Oxford University Press, 2009), which considers the construction of faith as a visual practice in Buddhism, and how seeing and believing function as part of intersecting visual and moral systems; and Divine Stories: Translations from the Divyāvadāna, part 1 (Wisdom Publications, 2008), the first half of a two-part translation of an important collection of ancient Buddhist narratives. This volume inaugurated a new translation series from Wisdom Publications called Classics of Indian Buddhism, of which I am also the chief editor. The second volume, Divine Stories: Translations from the Divyāvadāna, part 2, is complete and forthcoming with Wisdom Publications in 2017.
My current research focuses on two book projects, both of which explore the intersection of religion and the market, and the role of mercantilism in creating and resisting moral worlds: (1) Bazaar Religion: Marketing and Moral Economics in Modern India (Harvard University Press, under contract), a longitudinal study of the main bazaars in Varanasi, which examines the moral economy behind the objective economy of visible transactions, and the ways that it creates, mediates, and sacralizes various moods and modes of behavior; and (2) Saving the World through Commerce? Buddhists, Merchants, and Mercantilism in Early India, which chronicles the close relationship that Buddhism had with merchants and mercantilism in the early centuries of the Common Era, and how the market left its imprint on the foundations of Buddhism, particularly on Buddhist conceptions of morality.
The courses I teach concern South Asian religion, both premodern and modern, and 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 and as a philologist, 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, to offer insight into under-represented aspects of South Asian religious life, contextualize traditional materials, and animate discussions.
Select Articles and Presentations
"In Varanasi We Trust." In The City and South Asia, pp. 53–55. Cambridge: Harvard South Asia Institute, 2014.
"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 Vintage Stereographs of India." Contains ninety-nine 19th-century stereographic 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.