Associate Professor and Faculty Director of the Duke Center for Civic Engagement
119 Gray Building
Campus Box 90964
Phone: (919) 660-3533
Office Hours: Fall 2010: Tues/Thurs 12-1 or By Appointment
Ethics & Civic Engagement, Hinduism, Gandhi, Anthropology of Religion (oral, visual, & material culture), Colonialism & Postcolonial Theory, Gender & Religion
My primary interests are in ethics and its lived, expressive dimensions in Hindu and other Indic contexts, and in colonial and postcolonial anthropology of India, folklore, narrative, gender, and the South Asian American diaspora. My book Poetics of Conduct: Narrative and Moral Being in a South Indian Town (Columbia University Press, 2007) explores ethnographically how ethical discourses and self-formation can be understood through a study of oral narrative, performance studies, vernacular material practices ranging from architecture to foodways, and the poetics of everyday language. (This book was awarded the “Best First Book in the History of Religions Prize” by the American Academy of Religion in 2007.)
My second book, in progress, is at the intersection of oral narrative and colonial-era anthropology. Titled Annotating Pastimes: Cultures of Narration in Colonial India, this work looks at how the collection and publication of Indian folktales between 1860 and 1920 by British and Indian collectors shaped a new textualization of “everyday life in India” and especially of oral expressive forms (see article on some of this work.). My book studies how such a textualization, embedded in a variety of personal stories, crucially influenced the anthropology of India.
I co-edited Gender and Story in South India (SUNY Press, 2006) which presents ethnographic research by Indian women scholars on Hindu and Muslim women-centered oral narratives performed in different cultural and linguistic settings of South India. I also co-directed a documentary film ("Back & Forth: Two Generations of Indian Americans at Home") and edited a catalogue of essays titled Live Like the Banyan Tree (1999) to accompany an exhibition I guest-curated on Indian American life in Philadelphia & the Greater Delaware Valley (The Balch Institute of Ethnic Studies, now the Historical Society of Pennsylvania).
A major area of interest for me is in understanding how visual and material cultures reflect theorizations of ethics, or how different media can be probed to gain insights into ethical imagination. Three projects express this interest:
(1) Near completion is an ethnographic study of an immensely popular Telugu call-in live television program broadcast from Hyderabad, India, that offers interesting insights into how ethical doubt or uncertainty is presented--and mediated--on State-run television through dialogues between callers and experts.
The fieldwork for this project is done, as well as the penultimate draft of the essay based on it, titled, “In-Certitude: Doubt & Dharma on Cable Television in India.” I presented versions of this paper at Global Seminars in Media, Religion and Culture, Sao Paolo, Brazil, at the University of Hyderabad, India, and at Harvard University.
(2) Ongoing exploration of everyday understandings (in popular imagery, in practice etc) of “Gandhian ethics”: To understand what might be implied by a Gandhian social practicum, I have been involved in a civic engagement project in Hyderabad: I co-direct, with Dr. Baba Prasad, a DukeEngage program in Hyderabad , India, where along with the Duke students we supervise, we teach communicative English, basic science, and arts in economically underprivileged elementary schools. Our partner in this effort is the Hyderabad chapter of the Association for India’s Development.
We have run this program in the summers of 2008 and 2010.
A second aspect of this interest in Gandhi is a collaborative documentary film that I am directing with Dr. Baba Prasad that explores how "ordinary" people imagine and practice Gandhian ways.
I have also been teaching a course called "Gandhi: Image & Reflection" at Duke.
(3) I am working on a journal article (titled "In Visible Presence: Intuition In Hindu Arts of Devotion") which takes instances from early and medieval South Indian sculpture, story, and song, to explore how intuition plays a critical role in deciphering and interpreting the presence of the sacred in visible and invisible forms. Intuition, I argue, is foundational to the development of an ethics of engagement.
From July 2010, I assumed the first faculty directorship of the Duke Center for Civic Engagement. In this capacity, I have overseen the creation of a new portal on civic engagement on Duke's website, and have initiated the strategic vision and mission for the DCCE (http://dukechronicle.com/article/duke-center-civic-engagement-vision-and-initiatives).
I also serve on boards & committees at the Kenan Institute Ethics Certificate program, Center for Documentary Studies, and until recently, also the North Carolina Consortium for South Asian Studies.
Areas of Interest
Ethics & Civic Engagement
Colonialism & Postcolonial Theory
Anthropology of Religion (oral, visual, material culture)
Gender & Religion
- University of Pennsylvania,
- Leela Prasad.
- "Constituting Ethical Subjectivities."
- The Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies.
- Ed. Robert A. Orsi.
- Cambridge Companion to Religions,
- Cambridge University Press,
- (The volume is out, but its copyright date is 2012.)
- Leela Prasad.
- "Ethical Subjects: Time, Timing, and Tellability."
- Ethical Life in South Asia.
- Ed. Anand Pandian & Daud Ali.
- Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press,
- pp. 174-191.
- Leela Prasad & Baba Prasad.
- Moved by Gandhi [A documentary film].
- in progress.
- "Sita's Powers: ‘Do You Accept My Truth, My Lord?’ A Women's Folksong."
- Rāmāyana Stories in Modern South India: An Anthology..
- Ed. Paula Richman.
- Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press,
- (Translation and analysis of Kannada folksong.)
- Poetics of Conduct: Oral Narrative and Moral Being in a South Indian Town.
- Columbia University Press,
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