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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 2015):

  • Religion 110.01, Hinduism Synopsis
    Perkins 071, TuTh 10:05 AM-11:20 AM
  • Religion 910s.01, Ethnography of religion Synopsis
    See instru, W 10:05 AM-12:35 PM
  • Religion 999.04, Special readings Synopsis
    Tba, W 10:05 AM-12:35 PM
Office Hours:

By Appointment

PhDUniversity of Pennsylvania1998

Research Interests: Anthropology of Ethics, Ethics, Hinduism, Gandhi, Anthropology of Religion (oral, visual, & material culture), Colonialism & Postcolonial Theory, Gender & Religion

Leela Prasad's primary interests are in the anthropology of ethics and the ethics of anthropology in the broad field of religion. Her work examines the lived, expressive dimensions of ethics in Hindu and other Indic contexts through various lenses: narrative, folklore, gender, and diaspora, for example. Her ethnographic book Poetics of Conduct: Narrative and Moral Being in a South Indian Town (Columbia University Press, 2007) explores how ethical discourses and self-formation can be understood through a study of oral narrative, performance, 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.) Her second monograph (in progress) is located at the intersection of religion and the history of anthropology in India viewed through the perspective of three Indian folktale collectors in colonial India. The extraordinary but obscured biographies of these scholars and their wide-ranging writings, she argues, ask that we re-appraise and understand “enchantment" as both a critical mode of engaging the past/history (collective, individual) and a creative form of political critique. The book will show how enchantment becomes necessary to historical consciousness as an ethical stance and an aesthetic choice. Her other work includes an ethnographic study of the mediation of ethical doubt in religious television broadcast on state-owned channels, and a documentary film (in progress) on Gandhi as a resonant ethical presence in the lives of contemporary individuals. Prasad's work often combines ethnography and ’textual’ study to understand the dialogue and distinctions between early Indic constructs and modern formulations, such as “shastra” (or law, rules of conduct). Her most recent research explores the potential of science, especially physical concepts such as resonance, uncertainty, and entanglement, for probing an anthropology of ethics. She is fluent in the Indian languages of Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, and Hindi. Leela Prasad was the inaugural director for the Duke Center of Cvic Engagement and served on the Board of the Center for Documentary Studies for many years.

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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