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Leela Prasad, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Asian & Middle Eastern Studies

Leela Prasad
Contact Info:
Office Location:  118C Gray Building
Office Phone:  (919) 660-3533
Email Address:   send me a message
Web Page:

Teaching (Fall 2014):

  • Religion 110.01, Hinduism Synopsis
    Perkins 071, TuTh 10:05 AM-11:20 AM
  • Religion 882s.01, Mapping rel in colonial india Synopsis
    Perkins 079, W 10:20 AM-12:50 PM
    (also cross-listed as HISTORY 741S.01)
Teaching (Spring 2015):

  • Religion 278s.01, Epics of india Synopsis
    Perkins 079, W 10:05 AM-12:35 PM
    (also cross-listed as AMES 253S.01)
  • Religion 279.01, Gandhi: image and reflection Synopsis
    Perkins 070, Tu 10:05 AM-12:35 PM
    (also cross-listed as AMES 258.01)
Office Hours:

By Appointment

PhDUniversity of Pennsylvania1998

Research Interests: Ethics, 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 and civic work reflect theorizations of ethics, or how different media can be probed to gain insights into ethical imagination. Three projects express this interest: (1) 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 is presented--and mediated--on State-run television through dialogues between callers and experts.

(2) Ongoing exploration of everyday understandings of “Gandhian ethics”: --In progress is a multi-sited documentary film called MOVED BY GANDHI that I am co-directing with Dr. Baba Prasad that explores how "ordinary" people re-imagine Gandhi and enact a Gandhian praxis. --To understand what might be implied by a Gandhian social practicum, I have been co-directing (with Dr. Baba Prasad) a civic engagement program in Hyderabad called "The Loom & the Wheel: Equity in Education in Hyderabad" that focuses on teaching in economically underprivileged elementary schools and communities. We have run this program in the summers of 2008, 2010 and 2013. (3) In progress is an essay titled "Co-Being: Toward a Poetics of Habitation" 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 co-being. *** From July 2010 to July 2013, I was the inaugural faculty director of the Duke Center for Civic Engagement. In this capacity, I initiated the strategic vision and mission for the DCCE ( I also serve on the board of the Center for Documentary Studies.

Recent Publications   (More Publications)

  1. Leela Prasad & Baba Prasad. Moved by Gandhi [A documentary film]. 2015.
  2. Leela Prasad. "Constituting Ethical Subjectivities." The Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies Ed. Robert A. Orsi. Cambridge Companion to ReligionsCambridge University Press, 2011, 360-379.
  3. Leela Prasad. "Ethical Subjects: Time, Timing, and Tellability." Ethical Life in South Asia Ed. Anand Pandian & Daud Ali. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, Fall, 2010, pp. 174-191.
  4.  "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, 2008. (Translation and analysis of Kannada folksong.)
  5.  Poetics of Conduct: Oral Narrative and Moral Being in a South Indian Town.  Columbia University Press, 2007.

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