Current Institutional Affiliation
Researcher, Leiden University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2013
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Religion, Brown University
Mapping a Contested Landscape: Religion, Politics, and Place in the Making of Pasupata Identity

This nuanced regional study investigates a formative period in the history of the "Pasupatas," the earliest known religious community devoted to the worship of the Hindu God Siva. Through an interdisciplinary approach that integrates the study of new manuscript sources and epigraphic data in Sanskrit, with fieldwork at three vital groups of temple sites, my work will illuminate the ways in which this community participated in, and was shaped by, the religious competition and political upheaval that permeated early medieval northwest India (7th-9th century CE). Using these sources, I will work to recover the many, often marginalized, voices that animated this diverse community and, in doing so, engage in a radical rethinking of what it meant to be "Saiva" (i.e. a devotee of Siva) in this contested region and historical period. This study will produce an alternative history of early Saivism, which challenges the traditional scholarly categories and binaries (e.g. popular/élite; lay/ascetic; orthodox/heterodox) that circumscribe the study of Indian religions. By theorizing the ties between the self-fashioning of the Pasupatas and the dynamic landscape in which they were embedded, my work will move beyond my immediate sub-field and discipline to explore the polysemy of religious identity in India, both medieval and modern. Fieldwork at three clusters of early medieval temple sites—located near Mumbai in Maharashtra, Mandasor in Madhya Pradesh, and Chittorgarh in Rajasthan—will be an intrinsic element of my study of this region. By studying architectural elements and aspects of religious imagery and by analyzing the interrelationships between the natural and constructed features of these sites, I will theorize the multiple ways in which devotees used and experienced these lived spaces. This study will shed new light on the social function of sanctified spaces as media for the negotiation of socio-political hierarchies and the expression of religious identity(ies)