I am a medical and sociocultural anthropologist and interdisciplinary scholar working at the intersection of several fields including feminist, postcolonial and queer theories; religion and secularism; medicine and the body; and South Asia. My research projects in South India and the United States have roots in longstanding engagements with the politics of sexuality, gender and religion. These projects have focused in particular on the body as an artifact of culture and power in relation to questions of sexual subjectivity, social transformation and citizenship projects. I have conducted research in the US on sexual ‘risk’ and transsexual medicine and in South India on ‘sacred prostitution’ (devadasi dedication) and Dalit conversion to Buddhism.
My first book, Given to the Goddess: South Indian Devadasis and the Sexuality of Religion (Duke University Press, 2014), is an ethnography of a contemporary practice in which girls are married to a goddess. I take this ongoing practice and its reform as an occasion to consider what can count as religion and who and what marriage is for. In 2015, Given to the Goddess received the first Michelle Rosaldo best first book prize in Feminist Anthropology, the Ruth Benedict prize from the Association for Queer Anthropology, and the Clifford Geertz Prize for best book in the anthropology of religion from the Society for the Anthropology of Religion. The book also received honorable mention for the best book in South Asian Studies from the Association for Asian Studies in 2016.
I serve as the director of graduate studies in the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program. In college and university service, I am a member of the core faculty of the Nilgiris Field Learning Center, a Cornell-Keystone Collaboration; a member of the Humanities Council, Society for the Humanities; a member of the Qualities of Life Working Group, Einaudi Center; a member of the steering committee for Faith, Hope and Knowledge: Interfaith Dialogues for Global Justice and Peace, Einaudi Center, and a member of the Provost’s Social Sciences Idea Panel, 2017-present.
My second project, titled We Were Always Buddhist: Dalit Conversion and Sexual Modernity, turns to the revival of Buddhism in South India and questions of religious conversion in relation to projects of caste radicalism, social transformation, and sexual politics. Research for this book was funded a senior research fellowship from the American Institute for Indian Studies in 2017 and a Fulbright-Nehru Senior Scholar fellowship in 2014-2015.
Given to the Goddess: South Indian Devadasis and the Sexuality of Religion (Duke University Press, 2014).
Conjugality and Beyond: Sexual Economy, State Regulation and the Marital Form in India, edited with Srimati Basu (Delhi:Women Unlimited Press, 2015).
“Casting Religion and Sexing Gender in South India”, Caste and the Imagination of Equality, Anupama Rao (editor) Delhi: Women Unlimited Press, 2018.
“Who and What is Sex For?” Notes on Theogamy and the Sexuality of Religion” for “Sex and Religion” Mayanthi Fernando and Joan Scott (eds), a special issue of History of the Present: A
Journal of Critical History, 2017, Vol. 7(2).
“Backward Futures and Pasts Forward: Queer Time and Dalit Conversion in South India” for “Area Impossible” Anjali Arondkar and Geeta Patel (eds.), a special issue of Gay and Lesbian Quarterly, 2016, Vol. 22 (2).
“Clinical Encounters and Citizenship Projects” Medical Anthropology: Cross Cultural Studies in Health and Illness, November 2014, Vol. 33 (6).
“Troubling Kinship: Sacred Marriage and Gender Configuration in South India” American Ethnologist, November 2013, Vol. 40 (4).
“When the Devi is Your Husband: Sacred Marriage and Sexual Economy in South India” Feminist
Studies, Spring 2011, Vol. 37 (1). (Awarded the Clare Goldberg Moses Award by the Feminist Studies Collective).
“Magical Hair as Dirt: Ecstatic Bodies and Postcolonial Reform in South India” Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, December 2009, Vol. 33 (4). (Awarded the Kenneth W. Payne prize by the Association for Queer Anthropology).