Current Institutional Affiliation
Associate Professor, Art History, Pennsylvania State University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2005
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Architecture, University of California / Berkeley
Resurrecting Banaras: Urban Space, Architecture and Religious Boundaries

Enduring and evocative images of ritual cleansing and funerary pyres on the banks of the Ganges river have made the North Indian city of Banaras into a metonym for the "eternal" India of deep spiritual traditions. Although the most prominent piece of architecture along the river is the Alamgiri mosque, scholarly, political and touristic narratives of Banaras as "the sacred Hindu city," continue to be radically dehistoricized. This applies to both the city's history, as well as its relationship to broader processes by which religious boundaries in South Asia, whether Hindu or Muslim, have been defined. Throughout the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, religious identity in Banaras was both mediated and contested through ritual practice, in a newly constructed material environment of temples, ghats (a series of stepped terraces along the river) and riverfront palaces. This occurred against a milieu where "Hinduness" was increasingly defined as separate from the religion of the outsider, whether Muslim or Christian. This environment was simultaneously represented as antique, in indigenous religious pilgrimage maps and literature, and as evidence of the city's timelessness in orientalist paintings, texts and memoirs. How did the architectural and spatial elements of this material environment dovetail into its creators' objectives of Hindu revivalism? What was the dialogue between this creation and the representations of Banaras in realms of Hindu revivalism and European orientalism? Through archival and field research based around the built fabric of three intersecting urban religious sites in Banaras, my project will elucidate the process through which Hindu Banaras was constructed and represented. My research will further elucidate the connection between the making of place and religious identity. In a contemporary climate of politicized religious fundamentalism, my project will also inform a more careful history of the making of religious places.