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Leela Prasad, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies

Leela Prasad
Office Location:  118C Gray Bldg, Durham, NC 27708
Office Phone:  (919) 660-3533
Email Address:  send me a message
Web Page:

Teaching (Fall 2019):

  • Religion 278s.01, Epics of india Synopsis
    Gray 220, Tu 03:05 PM-05:35 PM
    (also cross-listed as AMES 253S.01)
  • Religion 912s.01, Theorizing religion Synopsis
    Allen 306, Th 03:05 PM-05:35 PM
Office Hours:

By appointment

  • Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania 1998


Research Interests: Ethics & Civic Engagement, Hinduism, Performance & Material Culture, Everyday life, Anthropology of Religion, Gender, Narrative, Colonialism & Postcolonial Theory

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 reflect theorizations of ethics. Underway is my ethnographic study of an immensely popular Telugu call-in live television program in India that offers interesting insights into the mediation by mass media between ‘normative expertise’ and ethical doubt or uncertainty.

An emerging area of interest for me is “Gandhian ethics”--especially its contemporary imagery and manifestations in practice. To understand what might be implied by a Gandhian social practicum, I have been involved in civic engagement: Since summer 2008, I co-direct, with Dr. Baba Prasad, a DukeEngage program in Hyderabad , India, where along with the Duke students we supervise, we teach communicative English, basic science, and arts in economically underprivileged elementary schools. Our partner in this effort is the Hyderabad chapter of the Association for India’s Development.

From July 2010, I will assume the first faculty directorship of the Duke Center for Civic Engagement. I also serve on the boards of the Kenan Institute Ethics Certificate program, Center for Documentary Studies, and the North Carolina Consortium for South Asian Studies.

Recent Publications   (More Publications)
  1. Prasad, L. "Co-being, a praxis of the public: Lessons from hindu devotional (bhakti) narrative, arendt, and gandhi." Journal of the American Academy of Religion 85:1 (March, 2017): 199-223. [doi]  [abs]
  2. Prasad, L. "Unearthing Gender: Folksongs of North India. By Smita Tewari Jassal . Durham: N.C.: Duke University Press, 2012. xviii, 296 pp. ISBN: 9780822351306 (paper, also available in cloth and as e-book).." The Journal of Asian Studies 75:4 (November, 2016): 1157-1158. [doi]
  3. Prasad, LEELA. "Hinduism in South India." Hinduism in the Modern World.  (2015): 15-30.
  4. Prasad, LEELA. "Cordelia’s Salt: Interspatial Reading of Indic Filial-Love Stories." Oral Tradition 29:2 (2015): 245-270.

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