Current Institutional Affiliation
Associate Professor, Art History, University of California / Berkeley

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2006
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Art History, University of Minnesota / Twin Cities
Performing “Hinduism” in the Twentieth Century: Temple Architecture and Pilgrimage in Braj Bhumi

Art historians tend to look at monuments apart from a living context, as if their dissociation from people makes them a historical artifact appropriate for study. My Ph.D. thesis, however, focuses on 20th-century temples in Braj Bhumi, the region around Vrindavan and Mathura in north India, where the god Krishna is supposed to have spent his youth, to understand how religion, temple-building and pilgrimage have constructed "mythological geographies" and "imagined communities" over the last hundred years. Although I will begin my research with a study of the temples themselves to understand how architecture was employed by patrons and donors to construct a modem "Hindu" community, I will then try to contextualize the cultural relevance of these temples within the actual functioning of sacred spaces. I will thus attempt to go beyond the study of form and structure to understand how architecture was used, viewed and circumscribed by "everyday users" through ritual practices and performative ceremonies. By studying the heterogeneities of early 20th-century experiences of pilgrims at Braj, for example the role of Islam in shaping "Hindu" histories of the region, I aim to understand as well as critique the processes through which popular religion in India has been essentialized and appropriated by contemporary Hindu nationalism while simultaneously being marked as "exotic and timeless" by neo-Orientalist gazes.