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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 Divyavadana, 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) a translation of the second half of the Divyavadana (for which I was recently awarded an NEH grant to complete); (2) Amar, Akbar, Anthony: Community, Nation, and Religion in a Landmark Hindi Film, co-written with Christian Novetzke and William Elison; (3) a social and economic history called Saving the World through Commerce? Buddhists, Merchants, and Mercantilism in Early India; and (4) an ethnography of the changing visual economy of the North Indian bazaar, focusing on people involved in the jute bag industry—designers, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, footpath vendors, and consumers. I am also working on a documentary film to complement the ethnography, which considers local ways of mediating, disseminating, and responding to transnational commodity images.
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, comic books, television serials, and devotional cassettes, for these not only offer insight into under-represented aspects of South Asian religious life but also contextualize traditional materials and animate discussions.
Select Articles and Presentations
"Baba's Got a Brand New Bag: Indian Jute Bags and Exotic Others." In 5 Year Plan: Literary Supplement, edited by Aaron Sinift, 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 Srinidhih: Professor Shrikant Shankar Bahulkar's Gratitude Volume, edited by Shripad G. Bhat, Shilpa Sumant, and Ambarish Vasant Khare, pp. 253–290. Pune: Samvidya Institute of Cultural Studies, 2009.
"The Power of Proximity: Creating and Venerating Shrines in Indian Buddhist Narratives." In Buddhist Stupas in South Asia: Recent Archaeological, Art-Historical, and Historical Perspectives, edited by Jason Hawkes and Akira Shimada, pp. 51–62. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009.
"White African Masks: Representing Africa in a Johannesburg Hotel." Co-written with April Strickland. Material World, posted on October 5, 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.